GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Former first lady Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday morning, left a lasting impression during her time in the White House more than 30 years ago.
“She was a very elegant first lady. She handled her position with a whole lot more dignity than some of the first ladies we’ve had,” said Peter Secchia, a Grand Rapids businessman, philanthropist and former ambassador to Italy under President Gerald R. Ford.
He observed Mrs. Reagan while on the campaign trail, noting she was a woman of valor.
“She was quietly elegant and forceful, but she was also always charming,” he told 24 Hour News 8 on Sunday.
And she was deeply in love with her husband, President Ronald Reagan.
“We still refer to the Nancy Reagan look. When I give a talk somewhere, I look in the audience and I see my wife looking around rolling her eyes ’cause she’s bored with me. I say, ‘How come you didn’t give me the Nancy Reagan look?’ She was that way. She always was looking up at her Ronnie with a big smile on her face,” Secchia said.
The Reagans had a dynamic relationship with President Ford’s family, which became closer after the campaign season.
“I think it’s kind of like the relationship the families had with the Carters. They ran against each other and then you step back and then they respect each other,” Joe Calvaruso, the executive director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, said.
The connection between the families was evident when Mrs. Reagan attended the dedication of the Ford Museum in 1981.
Her death reminded the country of the legacy of women in the White House. In particular, she was known for reaching out to others in office and to young adults facing peer pressure.
“I think Nancy Reagan will be known for ‘just say no.’ I think that impacted young adults, it resonated with them years ago and continued on,” Calvaruso said.
Nancy Reagan, who was 94, will be buried in California next to her late husband. Additional information on funeral arrangements have not yet been released.