Family, Friends, World Leaders Remember First Lady Nancy Reagan | NBC Southern California

Family, Friends, World Leaders Remember First Lady Nancy Reagan

The ceremony included a touching tribute to the Reagans' love story with the reading of a letter that Ronald Reagan wrote to his wife during their first White House Christmas



    Mourners gathered at the Ronald Reagan Library to remember former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Colleen Williams and Conan Nolan report for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on March 11, 2016. (Published Friday, March 11, 2016)

    Family, friends and figures from the worlds of politics, entertainment and media gathered Friday to remember first lady Nancy Reagan, whose life and love affair with her husband were celebrated with music and memories at the Reagan Library in Southern California. 

    Reagan called her husband's presidential library "the shining city on the hill," using a phrase that President Reagan had borrowed from history to describe his aspirations for the nation. Inseparable in life, they will be reunited again on that hilltop, side by side.

    The service began with a musical prelude from the 1st Marine Division Band from Marine Corps Camp Pendleton and a performance of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," one of Ronald Reagan's favorite songs, performed by the Santa Susana High School Choir.

    Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney read a love letter from Ronald Reagan to his wife that he wrote to her on their first Christmas in the White House in 1981, a fitting tribute to the love story they shared from the time they met in 1950. Nancy Reagan wrote in her memoir, "My Turn," that her life really began when she met the handsome Hollywood star and Screen Actors Guild president -- after a dinner meeting, he helped her clear her name from a Communist blacklist -- who would become her husband.

    Ronald Reagan's Christmas 1981 Love Letter

    [LA] Ronald Reagan's Christmas 1981 Love Letter to Nancy Reagan
    Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney read a love letter that President Ronald Reagan wrote to first lady Nancy Reagan during their first Christmas in the White House in 1981. Mulroney read the letter Friday March 11, 2016 at Nancy Reagan's funeral in Simi Valley, California. (Published Friday, March 11, 2016)

    The White House Christmas love letter is a testimony to the fact that Nancy Reagan filled the president's entire life with "warmth and love."

    Mulroney recalled waiting with Reagan and his security detail for the first lady to arrive after a meeting in Ottawa in 1987. He described the president's reaction when his wife got out of the car and began walking toward the two world leaders, already buoyed by a successful round of political talks.

    "President Reagan beamed, and he threw his arm around me and said with a grin, 'You know Brian, for two Irishmen, we sure married up,'" Mulroney said. "It reflects a unique Reagan reality. She really, always was on his mind."

    Former White House chief of staff James Baker told guests about Reagan's habit of hiding love notes around the couple's Pacific Palisades home for his wife to find. Nancy Reagan kept those letters in a shopping bag and secreted notes and his beloved jelly beans into his suitcase before trips. One holiday themed note read, "I live in a permanent Christmas because God gave me you," Baker recalled.

    "They were defined by their love for one another," Baker said. "They were as close to one another as is possible for any two people to be."

    As a storm front darkened the skies over Simi Valley, Camarillo bagpiper Bill Boetticher, 71, played "Amazing Grace," marking another link between the couple. Boetticher played at Ronald Reagan's funeral, and family members decided his presence would be fitting.

    Light rain began to fall during the ceremony -- organizers raised a tent earlier this week to shelter guests -- and continued as Reagan's rose-and-peonies-adorned casket was place near the grave site. Mourners unfolded umbrellas as they paid their final respects.

    The former first lady will be buried Friday night beside her "Ronnie" at the library they loved. Guests began to arrive at the hillside property northwest of Los Angeles about an hour before a musical prelude to the service, most details of which were planned by the former first lady.

    The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

    The sprawling, Spanish Mission-style library is located between the Reagan's post-White House home in the upscale Bel Air section of Los Angeles and Rancho del Cielo, the "ranch in the sky" where the Reagans spent their leisure time, sometimes on horseback, in the rugged mountains near Santa Barbara.

    The guest list for the funeral tells a story about their lives, which stretched from Hollywood's Golden Age to the California statehouse during Reagan's time as governor to the Washington Beltway. Four of the five living first ladies and relatives of every president dating to John Kennedy were invited.

    Friend Mr. T, the 1980s TV icon, entered the service wearing a U.S flag-themed bandanna on his head and military fatigues before taking a seat next to actor Gary Sinise.

    The service brought together Democrat and Republican, an unusual tableau at a time of deep division in Washington and the 2016 campaign trail. Hillary Clinton took a break from the presidential campaign to attend, and other politicians on the list cover the political spectrum, from Newt Gingrich to Nancy Pelosi.

    Nancy Reagan's two children, Patti Davis and Ronald Prescott Reagan, were among the speakers at the funeral. Davis described how Nancy Reagan was adamant about reuniting with her husband, who died in 2004, and called her parents as "two halves of a circle."

    Ron Prescott Reagan told the guests there likely would not have been a President Ronald Reagan without Nancy Reagan, saying she had an absolute belief in him, as well as provided guidance and a refuge.

    Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw also gave remarks during the private ceremony officiated by the Rev. Stuart Kenworthy, vicar of Washington National Cathedral.

    On Wednesday and Thursday at the library, lines of mourners and Reagan faithful filed slowly past the former first lady's closed casket, blanketed with white roses and peonies, Mrs. Reagan's favorite flower.

    Tears often fell. The crowd, many in graying years, spoke to an era closed, a time of "morning again in America" and the Reagan doctrine intended to weaken Soviet influence during the Cold War.

    Reagan left the presidency after eight years, on January 20, 1989.

    Mrs. Reagan, who died Sunday at 94, planned the smallest details of her funeral. She selected the funeral's flower arrangements, the music to be played by a Marine Corps band and the list of guests invited to the private memorial.

    The library site, where the 40th president was buried in 2004, provides sweeping views of horse country dotted with oaks and, on a clear day, a vista to the Pacific.

    The Reagans "just fell in love" with the spot, Boston developer and Republican fundraiser Gerald Blakeley recalled in a 2004 interview. He was part of a partnership that donated the land where the library now sits.

    "We're just grateful for the Reagan years," Ray Brooks of Simi Valley said Thursday 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.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.