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Mrs. Nancy Reagan makes remarks during the White House Conference on Drug Abuse and Families on March 22, 1982. (Reagan Presidential Library and Museum)

Remembering Mrs. Nancy Reagan: The Influence of a First Lady

March 11, 2016 4 minute Read by Natalie Gonnella-Platts
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan garnered global attention, encouraged activism among her peers, and ultimately influenced policy through her public service.

You learn something out of everything, and you come to realize more than ever that we're all here for a certain space of time, and then it's going to be over, and you better make this count.

- Mrs. Nancy Reagan

In this country and across the globe, spouses of government leaders have a unique opportunity to address challenges and improve lives. Mrs. Nancy Reagan is a prominent example of a first lady who used her podium to advocate on behalf of citizens. 

Her public service, both during and after her time at the White House, called attention to the need for leadership, partnership, and action on issues ranging from drug abuse, to foster care, to historic preservation, and many other causes.  Her tireless efforts garnered global attention, encouraged activism among her peers, and ultimately influenced policy.

For example, in April 1985 she hosted a First Ladies Conference on Drug Abuse, welcoming 18 first ladies from around the world to discuss solutions regarding the growing problem of drug abuse.  Later the same year, 30 spouses of heads of government joined her in New York for the second First Ladies conference held during the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.  In 1986, she became the first First Lady to address the United Nations General Assembly (now a more common practice thanks in part to her example), where she highlighted the critical need to strengthen international drug interdiction and trafficking laws.  That same year, President Reagan signed into law the “National Crusade for A Drug Free America.”

From fellow first ladies to state leaders to the American public, her contributions have had lasting influence, as emphasized in the countless tributes over this last week, including:

Mrs. Reagan was fiercely loyal to her beloved husband, and that devotion was matched only by her devotion to our country. Her influence on the White House was complete and lasting. During her time as first lady and since, she raised awareness about drug abuse and breast cancer. When we moved into the White House, we benefited from her work to make those historic rooms beautiful.

Mrs. Reagan was a woman of incredible strength and grace, and she was a passionate advocate for so many important issues.  Through the example she set, both during her time in the White House and beyond, Mrs. Reagan reminded us of the importance of women’s leadership at every level of our society. And on a personal note, Mrs. Reagan also understood the value of mentoring…I am so grateful for her kindness and generosity to me and my family over the years, and I hope that our continued work to educate girls worldwide is a fitting tribute to her legacy.

Nancy was an extraordinary woman: a gracious First Lady, proud mother, and devoted wife to President [Ronald] Reagan -- her Ronnie…Her strength of character was legendary…She leaves a remarkable legacy of good that includes her tireless advocacy for Alzheimer's research and the Foster Grandparent Program.

The Bush Institute's First Ladies Initiative supports First Ladies from around the world to effectively use their unique platforms to improve lives. Mrs. Reagan’s impact reminds us all of the value of this platform.  Her remarkable efforts to advance important causes in the United States and across the world will ensure that her legacy endures for generations to come.


Author

Natalie Gonnella-Platts
Natalie Gonnella-Platts

Natalie Gonnella-Platts serves as the Deputy Director of the Women's Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.  In this role, Natalie is responsible for research and programmatic efforts that empower women worldwide to lead in their communities and countries.  The portfolio currently includes the First Ladies Initiative, the Afghan Women’s Project, and the Women’s Initiative Fellowship. Natalie leads the work of the First Ladies Initiative, which aims to enable and support First Ladies from around the world in effectively using their platforms to empower women and children in their countries. 

Natalie studied Communications and International Studies (Peace and Conflict) at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia. She earned an MA in War, Violence and Security studies from the University of Sussex in Brighton, United Kingdom.  Prior to joining the Bush Institute, she held roles in New York City at American International Group (AIG), and in London at ConservativeHome USA, the Legatum Institute, and BBC Worldwide.  She is also a co-founder of Each Inc., a non-profit that seeks to provide innovative technology tools to organizations that care for and protect orphans and vulnerable children globally, and has previously served as a project strategy advisor to Stop the Traffik’s Finance Against Trafficking initiative.

Full Bio

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