Local historian reacts to Nancy Reagan's death

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At 94 years old, Nancy Reagan left the spotlight, but much of her life was lived in the public eye.

Born in New York City on July 6, 1921, she would go on to marry actor Ronald Reagan in 1952. The two would eventually make an unusual transition, going from Hollywood to the White House.

“By the mid 1980s she really was one of the most popular first ladies in modern history. Her approval rating by 1985 was something like 83 percent," said David Courtwright, a history professor at the University of North Florida. "She went from being something of a minor embarrassment to really one of the most popular and well-liked first ladies in modern history.”  

Courtwright authored the book "No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America." In it he takes a look at the time of Reagan conservatism and its effects on American politics.

Courtwright said Nancy Reagan was a different kind of first lady -- one who wasn't shy about what she wanted.

“She was a person, frankly, whose wrong side you did not want to get on. It wasn't personal for her, but for her husband. She saw herself very much as the protector of her husband," Courtwright said.

Accused of being a Communist sympathizer at one point, Reagan was later cleared.

She never left her husband's side after his assassination attempt, and she successfully battled breast cancer in 1987.

Nancy Reagan and the former president are survived by three children, Patti, Ron and their adopted son Michael.

Courtwright said, "I think she was a very significant figure in history. I think we should honor her memory. I know in many respects she was a controversial figure, but she was a real pioneer and she was a real difference maker in what was historically one of the most important administrations in modern American political history."

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