SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — They came to mourn the stylish, influential first lady and celebrate an era.
The death of Nancy Reagan at 94 has rekindled memories of a presidency passed, when the “Reagan revolution” reshaped American politics, ushered in the end of the Cold War and telegraphed a cheery optimism to supporters that’s little more than a distant echo in the tumult and tawdriness of the 2016 presidential campaign.
As hundreds of mourners, admirers and just the curious continued a solemn procession Thursday past Mrs. Reagan’s flower-draped casket at the Reagan Presidential Library, some paused to recall the days of “morning again in America,” a Reagan campaign theme, and the Reagan doctrine intended to curb Soviet influence during the Cold War.
“We’re just grateful for the Reagan years,” Ray Brooks of Simi Valley said as he waited in line with his wife Jackie to board a shuttle to the library grounds where Mrs. Reagan’s casket was placed in the marble lobby with a bronze statue of a smiling Ronald Reagan nearby.
“Everybody, no matter how they felt about those years, when they look back they remember them as good years because of the example they set. We need an example like that now,” Brooks said.
Asked who among the candidates running for president this year might set that example, both burst out laughing.
“I try not to think too much about that,” Ray Brooks said.
Though Reagan was a Republican icon, Richard Venn remembered the 40th president as a unifier known for his humour who could find friends among political rivals. He recalled Reagan’s friendship with the late Democratic House leader Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts.
“We keep looking for his replacement, and we’re still looking for his replacement,” said Venn, dressed in a red, white and blue shirt, who lives in nearby Oak Park.
Preparations were underway for Friday’s funeral, when forecasters said Thursday’s brilliant skies could be replaced by thunderstorms and wind. A tent was erected over the site.
More than 3,000 people came to the library northwest of Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Mrs. Reagan will be buried next to her husband, who died in 2004.
The guest list of entertainers, actors, politicians and celebrities is a portal into the lives of the Reagans.
It includes former President George W. Bush and California Gov. Jerry Brown. Four of the five living first ladies and relatives of every president dating to John Kennedy were also expected to attend.
The list ranged from broadcaster Katie Couric to Las Vegas legend Wayne Newton, actor Tom Selleck and Caroline Kennedy.
Nancy Reagan’s two children, Patti Davis and Ronald Prescott Reagan, will be among the speakers at the funeral, which will include choirs and a Marine Corps band.
James A. Baker, who served in the Reagan administration, and former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw also will give remarks during the private ceremony officiated by the Rev. Stuart Kenworthy, vicar of Washington National Cathedral.
The Reagans inspired a devoted following, particularly among Republicans and conservatives but were often reviled on the political left. Their popularity had limits.
The Iran-Contra scandal — secret moves to trade arms for hostages in Iran and divert the profits to Nicaraguan rebels — shook the White House. Fights over supply-side economics, which critics blamed for hurting American workers, shadowed his tenure. The debt held by the public soared on his watch – from $712 billion in 1980 to $2 trillion in 1988.
But mourners at the library Thursday did not dwell on political battles on Capitol Hill, or darker moments.
Foy Curry, who runs a home for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in Pasadena, couldn’t put a finger on why, but he said the country just seemed to be in a better state of mind during the Reagan years.
“America just seemed to be more whole in those days, and I think that’s because Ronald and Nancy Reagan, they just drew people in,” he said.
Roger W. Haley, a friend of the Reagan family whose mother raised money for the president’s campaigns, said fond memories drew him to the library.
“We just have to get back to the reality of just being respectful of each other,” said Haley, dressed in boots, jeans and a cowboy hat. “Like Hillary Clinton said the other day at one of her speeches, we have to get back to where people love each other again.”