Nancy Reagan has passed away at the age of 94. She had her faults, and she had her critics. But in terms of grace and elegance, she was far above and beyond the First Ladies who have followed her. She represented an America that, despite its problems, still had a sense of dignity. Hers was an era when the White House hosted Old Hollywood Royalty like Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, and Douglas Fairbanks; people who knew better than to jump on the bed in the Lincoln bedroom.
She treated the position of First Lady as a responsibility, not a stepping stone to further political ambitions, or a vehicle for meeting celebrities and taking lavish taxpayer-funded vacations with her entourage. (The Reagans “vacationed” by returning home to their ranch in California.) And although she was active in the management of the Reagan White House, discreetly and behind the scenes, she never used her unelected position to try and take over the health care system or dictate the composition of lunch programs nationwide. And she knew better than to clap her arms around the Queen of England like she was an old school chum. The same people who give Michelle Obama a pass for her multimillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded vacations thought it was outrageous scandal when Nancy Reagan sought private funds to replace the White House china.
But even if subsequent First Ladies had managed to maintain her standards of propriety and decorum, Nancy Reagan would have been no less remarkable. She dedicated her life to her husband and her work. She asked children to say “no” to drugs and really that is the only thing that will work. She survived breast cancer and became an advocate for women stricken with the horrible disease. She remained by her husband’s side as he succumbed to Alzheimers, speaking rarely and remaining very private. She never sought to make herself into something she wasn’t. She had no political ambitions, never got caught in a scandal and quietly lived the rest of her life in dignity.
The class she displayed unfailingly only makes the contrast with her successors more striking. It’s lamentable that standards of behavior in America have declined so severely since Nancy Reagan was in the White House. Her passing is not just an occasion to remember her life, but to mourn the passing of an era when politicians and celebrities knew better than to behave like People of Walmart in the White House.