On Sunday Nancy Reagan passed away in her home in Bel-Air, California. She was well known for her career as an actress, as the first lady of California, and as the first lady of the United States. But there is a more important – and unexpected – role many people don’t know about: Nancy Reagan as a bodyguard.
Nancy Reagan was completely devoted to Ronald Reagan. She understood that while her husband had many talents, no one is perfect. President Reagan tended to wear rose colored glasses, and to only see the good in people. While an admirable trait, in politics this can get one into unnecessary trouble. President Warren Harding once quipped that he could handle his enemies, but it was his friends that kept getting him into trouble.
Nancy Reagan knew this all too well, and that with political office come both well meaning, dedicated aides as well as others with their own agendas in mind. Figuring out the difference between the two can be nearly impossible, but Nancy understood that doing so could make or break her husband’s presidency. She was deeply involved in her husband’s work, always with the perspective of protecting the President.
Another under appreciated role of Nancy was protecting President Reagan’s schedule. Any President could work 100 hour days and still not come close to meeting the demands of the office. She fought daily battles to ensure he was not run into the ground by overly ambitious staff. Presidents have demands that most citizens can not even imagine.
In doing background research for a biography on president Reagan, author Edmund Morris spent a day at his side. Morris was surprised at the end of the day to find himself not only physically tired but emotionally exhausted as well. As a bodyguard of sorts, Nancy made sure that the taxing job of the Presidency did not burn her husband out. This critically important role of protecting him so he can endure until the very end of his presidency was a task she executed skillfully.
President Reagan did not always consult Nancy. When White House Chief of Staff James Baker and Treasury Secretary Don Regan proposed switching jobs, Reagan immediately agreed. The President didn’t even ask why. Nancy was very concerned about the new Chief of Staff, but it had already been approved. Don Regan’s tenure as Chief of Staff was troubled, and Nancy finally prevailed in persuading the President to fire him years later. Once again, history has shown her judgement to be sound.
Nancy’s protectiveness of her husband intensified exponentially after he was shot by an assassin’s bullet. His bodyguards, Secret Service agents Jack Parr and Tim McCarthy, saved his life. Parr by violating protocol and proceeding to a hospital instead of returning directly to the White House, and McCarthy by bravely squaring in front of the assassin. Agent McCarthy literally took a bullet in the abdomen for the President in an amazing display of courage. Reagan’s close brush with death brought Nancy’s concern to new heights.
In fact, Nancy was so worried about her husband’s safety that she did not want him to seek reelection. This from the woman who had in fact encouraged Ronald Reagan to run for the presidency in 1980. Having attempted to win the GOP nomination in 1976 and failing, Reagan thought he was through with politics and had no intention to continue. But Nancy thought the country needed him and convinced him to try again.
Though she was the President’s closest adviser, Nancy Reagan was not concerned with this policy position or that treaty. Her job was protecting and helping the man she loved. She was a dedicated spouse, and without her there would have been no presidency of Ronald Reagan nor a legacy that continues to this day. Her devotion to him was complete. We should all be so lucky.
Michael James Barton is the founder of a consulting firm, Hyatt Solutions. He worked on trade issues on Capitol Hill and served at the Department of Defense and the Homeland Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. He can be reached at Scheduling@HyattSolutions.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @MichaelJames357.