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03 March 2024

Nancy recalls beloved 'Ronny' on centenary


Ronald Reagan's widow Nancy laid a wreath for her husband Sunday on the 100th anniversary of his birthday, in an emotional celebration of the former US president's life.

Making a rare public appearance, the former First Lady was given a standing ovation by supporters including ex-chief of staff James Baker and other Reagan administration members and aides.

"It brings back so many memories to see all of your faces," said the frail-looking 89-year-old, dressed in red on a sunny day at her husband's Presidential Library in Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles.

"I know that Ronny would be thrilled, and is thrilled to have all of you share in his 100th birthday," she added, speaking clearly after being helped by a Marine through the ceremony.

"It doesn't seem possible, but that's what it is," she added.

A 21-gun salute was fired and the Star Spangled Banner sung as thousands gathered for the centenary of the former California governor's birth on February 6, 1911.

Sunday's events also included a concert by the Beach Boys and others, an F-18 fly-past from the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, and the ribbon-cutting for a renovated museum in her husband's name.

The former First Lady rarely speaks now, although on Monday television channel KUED will air "The Role of a Lifetime," a program including an "intimate" interview with her by veteran broadcaster Judy Woodruff.

Inevitably, the centennial also reflected the political divisions in Washington with Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin using an opening speech at the event on Friday to declare America once again "at a crossroads."

"We are shackled with... tax rates and the overregulation... But get big government out of the way and there is no reason that we cannot win," she added.

President Barack Obama, in turn, marked the day with a commentary published by USA Today that reminded Americans that Reagan was broadminded enough to compromise on contentious issues like Social Security and tax cuts.

"He understood that while we may see the world differently, and hold different opinions about what's best for our country, the fact remains that we are all patriots who put the welfare of our fellow citizens above all else," he said.

Obama identified confidence and optimism as Reagan's most winning traits, and in doing so implicitly drew a parallel to the contemporary American scene.

"At a time when our nation was going through an extremely difficult period, with economic hardship at home and very real threats beyond our borders, it was this positive outlook, this sense of pride, that the American people needed more than anything," he said.
In Sunday's speeches, former secretary of state James Baker sounded a similar note as he reminisced about his former boss's mastery in reaching across the aisle to solve the nation's problems.

"Like Ronald Reagan, we should relearn, as citizens of a democracy, we have a right to voice our disagreements, but at the end of the day, we have to come together to solve problems, rather than to cynically rely on them for partisan advantage."

Reagan, he said, "was, very simply, a beautiful human being in body and in mind and in spirit, and everyone who knew him would agree with that statement."