It Seems Like Yesterday

Nancy Reagan and Rex at home Bel Air @Benson1995 lg

We first met in 1966 when Ronald Reagan was running for Governor of California with his beautiful wife by his side.

Then in 1976, I traveled through New Hampshire with the governor, with Nancy Reagan again by his side, as he campaigned for the Republican nomination for president. 

Theirs was a grueling schedule, campaigning nonstop from town to town on their bus, eating cold sandwiches in the bleak New England weather, but they took it in their stride. Although Gerald Ford received the nomination and was defeated by Jimmy Carter, four years later the Reagans traded the cold sandwiches for elegant state dinners in the White House.

In February 1995, less than a year after the announcement that President Reagan had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Mrs. Reagan agreed to be photographed by me once more at their Bel Air home.  That morning, I received a call at my hotel asking me to arrive at 9 a.m. rather than 10. Mrs. Reagan answered the door in her dressing gown; however, her hair and makeup were perfect. 

When I asked her to pay my respects to the president, she seems pleased to tell me that he had been out playing golf the day before. Then she showed me two gowns to choose from. I chose the long, red Galanos and she said that was her first choice, too. She offered me coffee and went off to get dressed. 

Her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Rex, jumped up on the sofa in the library and made himself comfortable when I started taking photographs. We chatted briefly before I left and she remarked that her hope was for the president to be remembered as the “Great Communicator.”

Now Mrs. Reagan, too, will be remembered as an extraordinary part of the president’s legacy.

Theirs was a love story—an extraordinary one that I was privileged to experience firsthand over the years.