Remembering My Longtime Friend, Nancy Reagan

INDIAN WELLS, CA - JANUARY 17:  (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES)  Former first lady Nancy Reagan and actor Kirk Douglas attend the 20t
INDIAN WELLS, CA - JANUARY 17: (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) Former first lady Nancy Reagan and actor Kirk Douglas attend the 20th anniversary celebration of the Betty Ford Center January 17, 2003 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

Earlier today, my friend Nancy Reagan joined her husband in their adjoining gravesites at the Reagan Library. United in death as they had been throughout their long and happy marriage, Nancy and Ronnie were two film actors who played out their lives on a much more exciting world stage than Hollywood.

I am a registered Democrat, but Anne and I first became close to the Reagans when our children were classmates at the Thomas Dye School. My wife and Nancy were in the same carpool. Ron, Jr. and our son Eric were the kind of pals who played together after school and spent weekends at each other's homes.

One day, Anne got a jolting call from Nancy. She said, "Come pick up this boy at once." We couldn't imagine what Eric had done wrong. Nancy explained. Our son had seen a Goldwater bumper sticker on their family car and yelled "BOO Goldwater" -- a sentiment I confess he picked up from me. She had zero tolerance for such behavior.

Throughout their long friendship, Anne and Nancy had regular lunch dates, a custom that moved from the Bel Air Hotel to 668 St. Cloud this last year. When her dear friend, Merv Griffin, was alive, we would all dine regularly, providing the laughter Nancy so much treasured as the President's Alzheimer's progressed.

Nancy met this challenge as gallantly as she had faced up to his being shot while in office. Shortly after the assassination attempt, I was at the White House for an American Cancer Society ceremony. Nancy asked me to stay and have coffee with her. She knew I had supported Jimmy Carter in her husband's first Presidential campaign, but she was no longer the uncompromising person who had ejected my son from her house.

"How are you coping?" I asked her. Nancy had kept such a brave face before the public. "Oh, Kirk, she replied, "it's something you live with all the time." Far worse, I believe, was watching her beloved husband slip away in the fog of Alzheimer's until eventually he forgot her name. She was very interested in Harry's Haven, the Alzheimer's care unit Anne and I had built at the Motion Picture and Television home in Woodland Hills, California. We had recognized how difficult the disease was for families and tried to provide a warm and inviting atmosphere for their visits.

I was also immensely impressed by her devotion to the Reagan Library and her willingness to take a stand on a controversial issue like stem cell research. Despite the disapproval of many Republican leaders, she lobbied Congress as only an experienced Washington hand with a large bank account of good will could do. I remember her telling us that she had called Merv Griffin while he was receiving an honor in New York to announce, via speaker phone, that the bill had passed.

Among my fondest memories of Nancy are the many wonderful occasions when I got to dance with her. She moved expertly. With her as my partner, I almost felt like Fred Astaire. I know Nancy believed strongly in an afterlife where she would be reunited with Ronnie. I want to believe it's true, if only because that's what I hope for Anne and me. In my imagined paradise, I can envision Nancy in the President's arms, dancing in perfect harmony.