“During our White House years I said almost nothing about how I really felt regarding the controversies that swirled around me. . . . But now those years are over, and it’s my turn to describe what happened. . . .”
About Ronald Reagan: “Although Ronnie loves people, he often seems remote, and he doesn’t let anybody get too close. There’s a wall around him. He lets me come closer than anyone else, but there are times when even I feel that barrier.”
About being a mother: “What I wanted most in all the world was to be a good wife and mother. As things turned out, I guess I’ve been more successful at the first than at the second.”
About her influence: “I make no apologies for telling Ronnie what I thought. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you have no right to express your opinions. For eight years I was sleeping with the president, and if that doesn’t give you special access, I don’t know what does.”
About astrology: “What it boils down to is that each person has his or her own ways of coping with trauma and grief, with the pain of life, and astrology was one of mine. Don’t criticize me, I wanted to say, until you have stood in my place. This helped me. Nobody was hurt by it—except, possibly, me.”
About Don Regan: “His very first day on the job, Don said that he saw himself as the ‘chief operating officer’ of the country. But he was hired to be chief of staff. . . . Although I believed for a long time that Donald Regan was in the wrong job, my ‘power’ in getting him to leave has been greatly exaggerated. Believe me, if I really were the dragon lady that he described in his book, he would have been out the door many months earlier.”
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“There’s Been a Shooting”
IT was early afternoon on March 30, 1981, only seventy days after my husband was sworn in as president of the United States. I had just returned to the White House from a luncheon and was talking in the third-floor solarium with Ted Graber, our decorator, and Rex Scouten, the chief usher.
Suddenly I saw George Opfer, the head of my Secret Service detail. He motioned for me to come down the ramp toward him.
What’s George doing here, I wondered. Something must be wrong, or he would have come up to me.
“There’s been a shooting at the hotel,” George said. “Some people were wounded, but your husband wasn’t hit. Everybody’s at the hospital.”
I had started moving at the word “shooting.” By the time we reached the elevator I was getting panicky, and I told George I was going to the hospital. Although Ronnie was safe, I wanted to be with him, especially if anyone had been hurt.
“It’s best if you stay here,” George said. “It’s a madhouse over there. The president is fine. They’ll be bringing him back. There’s no need for you to go.”
“George,” I said, “I’m going to that hospital. If you don’t get me a car, I’m going to walk.” A White House limousine pulled up to the Diplomatic Entrance, and we got in.
As we approached George Washington University Hospital, the street was jammed—police cars, reporters, onlookers. Without a siren or a police escort, we just had to sit there. I was frantic. “If this traffic doesn’t open up,” I said, “I’m going to run the rest of the way.”
“No, no,” George kept saying. “You can’t do that.” Finally the traffic broke and we made it to the emergency entrance.
The Secret Service had radioed ahead that I was coming, and Mike Deaver met me at the door. Mike was Ronnie’s deputy chief of staff, and a close family friend.
“He’s been hit,” Mike said.
The emergency entrance was crowded, but all I remember is Mike standing there, staring at me.
“But they told me he wasn’t hit,” I stammered.
“Well,” Mike said, “he was. But they say it’s not serious.”
“Where? Where was he hit?”
“They don’t know, they’re looking for the bullet.”
Looking for the bullet! “I’ve got to see him!” I said.
“You can’t. Not yet.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, my voice rising. “If it’s not serious, then why can’t I see him?”
“Wait. They’re working on him.”
“Mike,” I pleaded, as if it were up to him. “They don’t know how it is with us. He has to know I’m here!”
Mike explained that the doctors were searching for the bullet, and that Jim Brady, Ronnie’s press secretary, had been shot in the head, and it looked bad. Two others had been hit—a Secret Service agent and a D.C. policeman.
Somebody led me into an office, and Mike went off to find out when I could see Ronnie. John Simpson, the head of the Secret Service, came in with Agent Ed Hickey and Senator Paul Laxalt, our old friend. Ed squeezed my hand, but soon I had to comfort him, as he broke into tears.
It was a nightmare—the panic and confusion, the waiting, the not knowing. But something takes over at these times and somehow I held myself together. They’re doing what they can, I told myself. Stay out of their way. Let the doctors do their work. My father, a doctor, had told me that so many times—it was like an echo in my head.
Around me, the hospital was bedlam. I still wake up at night remembering that scene—confusion, voices, sirens, reporters, doctors, nurses, technicians; the president’s men, the Secret Service with their walkie-talkies. People running through the corridors, doctors barking orders, and the police shouting, again and again, “Get these people out of here!”
As my mind raced, I flashed to scenes of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Texas, and the day President Kennedy was shot. I had been driving down San Vicente Boulevard in Los Angeles when a bulletin came over the car radio. Now, more than seventeen years later, I prayed that history would not be repeated, that Washington would not become another Dallas. That my husband would live.
With three shooting victims to take care of—the fourth, Officer Thomas Delahanty, had been taken to another hospital—the doctors were working frantically. Nurses kept coming in with new reports, and the news they brought was increasingly alarming. Twice I was told that they couldn’t find Ronnie’s pulse: They were afraid he might go into shock. If that happened, I knew we might lose him.
Then another nurse came in to tell me that Ronnie’s left lung had collapsed, and that they had him on a machine to help him breathe.
When Ronnie first arrived at the hospital, they thought he’d suffered a heart attack. It wasn’t until two nurses cut off his clothes with special trauma scissors and a doctor lifted his left arm that they noticed the small bullet hole. There was no exit wound, which meant that the bullet was stuck inside him.
Until they found the bullet hole, the doctors and nurses hadn’t understood what was wrong. All they knew was that the president of the United States was dying in front of their eyes.
Ronnie had been hit by a “devastator” bullet, which is designed to explode on impact. For whatever reason, this one hadn’t. After striking a panel of the armored car, it flattened out to the size of a jagged-edged dime, bounced off, and then pierced Ronnie’s body.
But they still didn’t know where the bullet was.
Over and over I insisted, “I want to see my husband!”
“Soon,” they told me. They said he had to be cleaned up and stabilized. Later, I learned that they were afraid to let me in too early because they thought I’d be traumatized by what I saw. Considering what I did see, they were probably right.
Finally they said I could see him, and I flew down that hall. Dr. Theodore Tsangaris explained that Ronnie had a tube in his chest and was breathing through an oxygen mask. I was so frightened by what I was hearing that I could barely speak.
I walked in on a horrible scene—discarded bandages, tubes, blood. In the corner were the remains of Ronnie’s new blue pinstripe suit, which he had worn that day for the first time. I had seen emergency rooms before, but I had never seen one like this—with my husband in it.
Ronnie looked pale and gray. Underneath the oxygen mask, his lips were caked with dried blood. He saw me, and pulled up the mask and whispered, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” I was fighting tears too hard to try to smile, so I just leaned over and kissed him. Then I pushed his mask back down again and said, “Please, don’t try to talk.”
When I came out, Mike Deaver took my hand. “Oh, Mike,” I cried. “He’s so pale!”
“I know,” he said. “But if you think he’s bad now, you should have seen him when he first came in.” I nodded, but I really couldn’t imagine what Mike meant.
Minutes later, Dr. Benjamin Aaron, the head of cardiothoracic surgery, came to see me. “He’s losing too much blood,” he said. “We need to operate. First we’ve got to check his stomach for blood. Then we’ll look for the bullet and try to get it out of his lung. We have it on the X ray.”
As they wheeled Ronnie toward the operating room, I walked along beside him, holding his hand. We were surrounded by a team of doctors and nurses, some of them in green surgical gowns. Bags of blood hung above the cot. Just before they took him inside, I kissed him on the forehead and told him I loved him.
John Simpson from the Secret Service accompanied Ronnie into surgery. He, too, was wearing a surgical gown, and he stayed at the president’s side throughout the operation, as security required.
They gave Ronnie an injection of Pentothal to put him to sleep. Just before he went under, he managed to crack another joke: “Please tell me you are all Republicans,” he said.
As Ronnie was wheeled into surgery, another patient was right behind him. It was Jim Brady, his head open and bleeding and grotesquely swollen. I had never seen anybody with a head wound, and it was monstrous. A few minutes later, when a nurse said, “We don’t think Mr. Brady’s going to make it,” I believed her.
While Ronnie was being operated on, I was led into a larger waiting room. There was a television, and Frank Reynolds announced on ABC that Jim Brady was dead. Minutes later, when the report was corrected, he slapped the desk in frustration. “Can’t we get things straight around here?” he snapped.
But it was chaos everywhere. NBC and CBS also announced that Jim was dead, and CBS observed a moment of silence in his memory. On NBC, Chris Wallace reported that Ronnie was given open-heart surgery.
Despite the mistakes, I was mesmerized by the television and took some comfort from the steady flow of words and pictures. At least it was something to hold on to.
With so little hard news to report, the networks kept showing a film of the shooting. Even now, if I shut my eyes, the scene flashes through my mind: Ronnie coming out of the hotel, smiling, waving to the crowd. And then that terrible sound—he later told me he thought it was firecrackers. The look of surprise on his face. Jim falling to the ground. Bodies on the sidewalk, and agents moving in on the gunman. And then Agent Jerry Parr grabbing Ronnie and pushing him into the car.
While Ronnie was still in the operating room, somebody from the hospital came to ask if I wanted to visit the chapel. When we got there, George Opfer took my hand and said, “All we can do now is pray.”
Sarah Brady, Jim’s wife, came in too, and we embraced. The Reagan administration was still so new that this was the first time Sarah and I had ever met. She hadn’t yet seen her husband, so she had no idea how badly he was hurt.
“They’re strong men,” she said. “They’ll get through this.”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes.” But my voice lacked conviction. I wanted to be optimistic, but I couldn’t get those horrible images of Ronnie and Jim out of my mind. Before we left the chapel, Sarah and I held hands and prayed together.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have enjoyed reading Mrs. Reagan's book and have come to understand how extraordinary her and her husband's life have been. I have tremendous respect for her and suspect that if I knew her personally I would love her. Through her eyes, I was able to see what a good (and nice) person our former president really was!
I have so much respect for Mrs. Reagan after reading her memoir.
Thank you Mrs Nancy Reagan For Taking Care Of Or Most Wonderful President Your Book is Beauitful
Solid love story? ?
An interesting book into the 'behind the scenes' of a politcal family. I felt that Ms. Reagan was using this book to get back at some people who she felt did her wrong, but over all, overlooking the nasty remarks, this is an book to be read by those who liked the Reagans and want to know more about the family. Ms. Reagan speaks of each of her children, and Patti, who seems to be the 'black sheep' is spoken of with hurt in the pages. Since the writing of the book, Patti and Nancy have made amends, but the emotional pain is on every page where Patti is mentioned. Good reading for those who like this subect matter.