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Nancy: A Portrait of My Years with Nancy Reagan

Nancy: A Portrait of My Years with Nancy Reagan

4.2 6
by Michael K. Deaver

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She was the daughter of a single mother. She was a Hollywood movie star. She is the wife of one of the greatest presidents of the twentieth century. She is a cancer survivor. And she now wages her greatest, unwinnable battle -- against her husband's Alzheimer's disease. Nancy Davis Reagan has led an extraordinary life; it has also been an extraordinarily private one.


She was the daughter of a single mother. She was a Hollywood movie star. She is the wife of one of the greatest presidents of the twentieth century. She is a cancer survivor. And she now wages her greatest, unwinnable battle -- against her husband's Alzheimer's disease. Nancy Davis Reagan has led an extraordinary life; it has also been an extraordinarily private one. Now Mike Deaver, whose relationship with Mrs. Reagan dates back to the 1960s, shares the side of Nancy that only her intimates know. Most people don't know the real Nancy Reagan, or their impression of her has been shaped by consistently negative press coverage. If you believe the mainstream press, all you would really know about Nancy is that she likes fancy clothes or that she has rich and powerful friends or that she was obsessed with trivialities like the White House's china. Pundits were equally tough on her, crowning her with ugly nicknames, the tamer ones being Queen Nancy, Iron Lady, Ice Lady, and Dragon Lady. But the Nancy Reagan Mike Deaver has come to know over thirty-five years, the woman portrayed in Nancy, is far more complicated than the stereotype. No cardboard cutout, she is pure flesh and blood, a woman of immense will and fortitude. And in the Reagans' fifty-year marriage, Ron always received top billing, and she would have it no other way. She is convinced that her husband was one of the great men of the twentieth century -- a rare world leader who changed the tide of history. Still, Nancy has been no bit player in the story. Deaver believes that Reagan would not have risen to such distinction without Nancy at his side.

Reluctantly drawn into politics, the retired actress and housewife was at first intimidated, but then gradually embraced her role. To the president who was incapable of protecting himself from those who served him poorly and even wished him harm, Nancy Reagan would bring discipline. When it would come time for a momentous life decision, to wage a campaign for the White House, she would ask the tough questions. When his image might be tainted, she would fervently guard it, even at the expense of her own. To Ronald Reagan the man, who always had trouble expressing intimacy, Nancy gave the gift of her unrestricted love. She was his respite, his comfort, his reward at the end of the day. Whenever she left him to travel, the leader of the free world was anxious as a schoolboy until she was safely home again. Now to a man no longer capable of looking after himself, Nancy is everything there is left to be: caretaker, guardian, nurturer of the Reagan legacy.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
To long-time Reagan staffer Deaver, it has often seemed as if there were two Nancy Reagans, one whom the public loves to criticize and a private, gentler version. In his latest book, Deaver (A Different Drummer) writes about a Nancy Reagan most people have never gotten to know. Deaver is not blind to his subject's failings, but he argues that the public has never really understood what Nancy is about. Her involvement in political matters, her impatient and intimidating demeanor and her take-no-prisoners attitude stemmed, he says, from a genuine desire to protect and shield her husband from those who had something other than his best interests at heart. Throughout the trials that have plagued the Reagans' lives, from the assassination attempt to the president's affliction with Alzheimer's, Nancy has stood unfailingly by Reagan's side, even if he can no longer stand by hers. "It was always about him," Deaver explains. This is not a comprehensive biography, nor does it seek to push a political agenda. More than anything, it is deeply personal, a moving tribute to the Nancy Reagan he got to know over the many years in their personal and professional relationship. His poignant writing portrays a determined and courageous woman who throughout her life has been motivated by one thing: love. Politics was just noise in the background. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Feb.) Forecast: The appealing cover photo of Nancy with the laughing face should help draw readers to this insider's look at her life. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
From a friend of 35 years. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.81(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Portrait of My Years with Nancy Reagan

Chapter One

The Early Years

Like so much else of my own history, the story of how I first came to know Nancy Reagan begins with her husband. In November 1966, Ronald Reagan delivered a body blow to the national political establishment when he was elected governor of California. His opponent, two-term Democratic incumbent Pat Brown, dismissed Reagan as a fading matinee idol turned political novice. East Coast liberals ridiculed him as a knee-jerk Goldwaterite and corporate pitchman. To a greater or lesser degree, Reagan was all those things, but his detractors missed the critical element: Ronald Reagan talked to voters in an idiom they could understand about issues that resonated deeply across the political spectrum. When the dust settled, the ex-actor had trounced the consummate politician, showing Pat Brown the door by a million votes.

The 1966 elections were good to me, too. I had been over-seeing three state assembly races in coastal California for Republican candidates and had managed to bring home two winners, thanks in part to Reagan's surprising coattails. But I hadn't climbed on the new governor's bandwagon early on when it counted, and even after the campaign was over, I still didn't know much about Ronald Reagan and even less about California's new first lady, Nancy.

Unlike most GOP field men who had been working the state that year, I also had little interest in joining the governor-elect's team in the capital city. I was living in Santa Barbara, with its Mediterranean climate, inviting beaches, and tile-roofed homes. I couldn't imagine giving that up for Sacramento, a sweltering valley town like Bakersfield, California, where I was born. For my money, Santa Barbara was heaven on earth. Sacramento was close to its opposite.

I also liked my work. I had become fixated with the power of advertising and creative direct mail in political races, and I had been able to field-test both -- to great success -- in the campaigns I had just managed. My immediate strategy was to join a small advertising firm in Santa Barbara, where I could continue to refine my techniques. From there, I liked to imagine a career path that ascended to the top of the ad industry.

A few weeks later, I took a call from Reagan's new hand-picked chairman of the state Republican Party, Denny Carpenter, and put my plans for becoming Mr. Madison Avenue on temporary hold. Denny told me I was needed up north. Specifically, I was to report ASAP to William P. Clark, one of the chiefs of Reagan's transition team. I don't know why I got the call -- presumably my old friend and political guru Stu Spencer had put them on to me. But there I was, Bill Clark's number two man overnight.

The transition team gave me a fascinating look inside state government. I was meeting great people and adding muscle to an otherwise fairly puny résumé. But I was also a short-timer. Chances were, I would retreat back to Santa Barbara without ever meeting California's new first couple, much less saying an intelligible word to either one of them. And that's almost the way things worked out.

On January 3, 1967, I watched as Ronald Reagan raised his right hand and took the oath of office. Nancy, of course, was at his side. The hour was late. Irked by the unseemly blitz of judicial and commission appointments that Pat Brown was doling out to his friends, Reagan asked to be sworn in at the "earliest possible moment." That earliest possible moment came at 12:14 A.M. Despite the hour, many of the Reagan campaign people were jubilant, to the point of welling up. They were finally seeing the fruits of a most difficult, unexpected journey.

I would see that same jubilation again in 1980, in Washington, not Sacramento, and from a much better seat. This time, though, I was in the peanut gallery -- a transition staffer with neither the history nor the political juice to command a choice vantage point. Still, even watching from a distance, I found myself wondering if I would ever be involved in a cause so great that it would make me as emotional as those young staffers.

The next morning, still thinking about commitment, the Reagans, and Santa Barbara, I walked into my office ready to say good-bye. The transition was done; it was time to start governing. An hour or so later, Bill Clark asked if I would stick around and be his assistant in the cabinet affairs office. With little thought, I found myself saying yes. Sunny Santa Barbara suddenly seemed very far away.

I accepted the offer so quickly in part because I was warming up to Sacramento. As a conservative, I was both enthusiastic about Ronald Reagan's programs -- although I still had trouble believing he was actually the governor -- and curious about his capacity to lead. Reagan's promise to be a "citizen-governor" held real appeal to me, as it obviously did to millions of other Californians, but I wondered to myself just how effective a man with no elective experience could be in handling one of the nation's toughest political jobs. In truth, too, I had enjoyed my small introduction to political power during the transition. Managing campaigns was exhausting but exhilarating. Who knows, governing might be fun, too.

Reagan had been in office about six months when his chief of staff and deputy chief quit abruptly, and the governor appointed my boss, Bill Clark, to the top post, and Bill made me his deputy. Until then, I had flown almost entirely under the radar, one of many relatively inconsequential staffers. Now, amazingly, thanks to the staff shake-up, I was a "senior administration official": the figurative, if not the actual, number two man in the statehouse, complete with a well-appointed office directly across from the governor of California ...

A Portrait of My Years with Nancy Reagan
. Copyright © by Michael Deaver. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Former assistant to the president and White House deputy chief of staff during the Reagan administration, Michael K. Deaver is the author of Nancy and the bestselling A Different Drummer: My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan. He serves as vice chairman, international, for Edelman Worldwide.

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Nancy: A Portrait of My Years with Nancy Reagan 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I continue to marvel at the depth of the Reagan's love affair. Deaver's depiction of the rose incident is a very sweet and tender example of President Reagan's love for Mrs. Reagan. Whatever a person thinks of the Reagan's politics, you can't argue with the fact that Mrs. Reagan was a magnificent caregiver to her husband. Sweet read !!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was excellent, made me see a side of Nancy that the public didn't get to see during her days in the White House and my heart goes out to her now more than ever for the struggles that she faces on a daily basis with her husband's disease.