SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – Nancy Reagan called her husband’s presidential library “the shining city on the hill,” using a phrase that President Reagan had borrowed from history to describe his aspirations for the nation.
Inseparable in life, they will be reunited again on that hilltop, side by side.
The former first lady will be buried beside her “Ronnie” Friday at the library they loved, after being mourned and celebrated by family and hundreds of friends from Hollywood, Washington and beyond in a private service.
She was “just a beautiful lady,” said John Sandoval, who with his wife, mother and infant daughter joined a crowd of over 1,000 Thursday at the library to see the flower-draped casket.
“I think it was just the unity they shared through his governorship, through his presidency, that brought people together,” Sandoval added.
Forecasters warned that Thursday’s brilliant skies could be replaced by thunderstorms and wind. A tent was erected over the site of the service.
The sprawling, Spanish Mission-style library is located between the Reagan’s post-White House home in the upscale Bel Air section of Los Angeles and Rancho del Cielo, the “ranch in the sky” where the Reagans spent their leisure time, sometimes on horseback, in the rugged mountains near Santa Barbara.
The guest list for the funeral tells a story about their lives, which stretched from Hollywood’s Golden Age to the California statehouse during Reagan’s time as governor to the Washington Beltway. Four of the five living first ladies and relatives of every president dating to John Kennedy were expected to attend.
It will bring together Democrat and Republican, an unusual tableau at a time of deep division in Washington and the 2016 campaign trail. Hillary Clinton plans to take a break from the presidential campaign to attend, and other politicians on the list cover the political spectrum, from Newt Gingrich to Nancy Pelosi.
Nancy Reagan’s two children, Patti Davis and Ronald Prescott Reagan, will be among the speakers at the funeral, which will include choirs and a Marine Corps band.
James A. Baker, who served in the Reagan administration, and former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw also will give remarks during the private ceremony officiated by the Rev. Stuart Kenworthy, vicar of Washington National Cathedral.
On Wednesday and Thursday at the library, lines of mourners and Reagan faithful filed slowly past the former first lady’s closed casket, blanketed with white roses and peonies, Mrs. Reagan’s favourite flower.
Tears often fell. The crowd, many in greying years, spoke to an era closed, a time of “morning again in America” and the Reagan doctrine intended to weaken Soviet influence during the Cold War.
Reagan left the presidency after eight years, on January 20, 1989.
“Ronald Reagan was one of the best presidents we’ve ever had, and I admired them both as a couple for their love story and the support they showed to each other,” said retired school teacher Mary Ellen Gruendyke, from Riverside.
Mrs. Reagan, who died Sunday at 94, planned the smallest details of her funeral. She selected the funeral’s flower arrangements, the music to be played by a Marine Corps band and the list of guests invited to the private memorial.
The library site, where the 40th president was buried in 2004, provides sweeping views of horse country dotted with oaks and, on a clear day, a vista to the Pacific.
The Reagans “just fell in love” with the spot, Boston developer and Republican fundraiser Gerald Blakeley recalled in a 2004 interview. He was part of a partnership that donated the land where the library now sits.
“We’re just grateful for the Reagan years,” Ray Brooks of Simi Valley said Thursday as he waited in line with his wife Jackie to board a shuttle to the library grounds, where Mrs. Reagan’s casket was placed in the marble lobby with a bronze statue of a smiling Ronald Reagan nearby.
“Everybody, no matter how they felt about those years, when they look back they remember them as good years because of the example they set. We need an example like that now,” Brooks said.
© 2016 Michael R. Blood