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Former First Lady Nancy Reagan Laid to Rest. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 11, 2016 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:27] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brook Baldwin. You are watching CNN's special coverage of the final good-bye to First Lady Nancy Reagan who passed away in her home at the age of 94. Moments from now, her funeral service will begin at Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. This is a service the former First Lady planned for herself down to the last detail.

You are seeing all of the faces here. I can tell you about 1,000 people are expected to attend, including immediate family, current and former first ladies, a who's who of celebrities and politicians. Special guests are arriving now. We are a half hour away from the start of the service. The guest list includes First Lady Michelle Obama, George W. Bush, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, and the list goes on and on.

Let's begin with my friends and colleague, Sara Sidner, who is at the Reagan Library.

Sara, everyone from first ladies to actors, actresses, everyone. Tell me about the service.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have been seeing people stream in as well. We have seen some of the people you mentioned. Tom Selleck is here. We have seen the honorable Ryan Moroney, the former Prime minister of Canada, who will be reading a love letter that I'm sure will have the crowd crying. It's a beautiful letter and he said himself he will be surprised if there is not a huge emotional response to that. Also we know that George W. Bush is here with his wife, Laura. They have arrived. A lot of the celebrities arriving.

What you are hearing is the choir. Every detail was picked out, was put in place by Mrs. Reagan herself. She went over it six to nine months ago with the folks at the library who said she was clear on what she wanted and not a single detail is anything out of what he put on paper or agreed to. It is a funeral she planned. She planned it with her husband until he passed away and she added some things herself. This is going to be a poignant ceremony. If you look at who's speaking, her children will eulogize her. So are folks like former "NBC Nightly News" anchor, Tom Brokaw. He's here, as well. Diane Sawyer is here. She will be reading from a gospel. A lot of political heavyweights are here. Newt Gingrich has shown up.

It is a ceremony planned by her. So some beautiful touches like the peonies that are her favorite flower. They are on the casket as well. She was clear on where she wanted to be buried, by her husband's side. You know the love story that everyone talks about. At the end, she will be just inches away, buried just inches from her husband -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: You talk about the love story. I'm sure people will be in tears. Reading so much about the relationship between the two, I was nearly in tears just preparing to talk about this extraordinary woman.

Sara Sidner, thank you so much.

I have an incredible panel here, as we anticipate the funeral beginning 25 minutes from now. With me here, in New York, Kate Anderson Brower, the author of soon to be released "First Women, The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies"; and CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen, former adviser to President Reagan. Also with us, CNN political commentator and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Carl Bernstein; Dr. Stacy Cordery, professor of history at Monmouth College and bibliographer for the National First Lady's Library in Canton, Ohio; and also here, Bill Novak, who worked with Nancy Reagan on her memoir "My Turn."

Welcome to all of you.

These pictures, let me defer to you first, David Gergen. We are looking at the list, Michelle Obama, Rosalynn Carter, the children, Patty Davis, Ron Reagan. Tom Brokaw, Larry King, Wayne Newton, Tina Sinatra. What does that tell you about who Nancy Reagan was?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Nancy Reagan was enormously active socially. She had a great many friends in private. She believed -- not only did she welcome that, but she believed it was a way to change our politics. For example, when she came to Washington, she struck up a relationship with Catherine Grant. The "Washington Post" had been an opposition newspaper to previous Republicans but they became fast friends and it was a nourishing relationship, and she saw the social as a way to advance the political. It worked out very well. It was natural to her. That's what she liked. She liked good company. They gave more state dinners, like three times as many as President Bush did, George W., in his eight years, and about three times as many the Obama's have.

[13:35:33] BALDWIN: We will get in to the glamour of the White House and the china and the redecorating of the executive mansion.

But on the service itself, beginning with the Civil War era, "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and the reading of Proverbs 31: 10-31, and the letter from the former president to his wife, Kate, in terms of the details in how she planned this, reading about this, I know she wanted to be buried inches from her husband as though they were holding hands.

KATE ANDERSON BROWER, AUTHOR: It's not surprise she paid attention to every detail. When she was first lady, I had a butler tell me she would sit at the west hall at the Rose Garden to see press conferences, to see if the president's blazer was the right blazer. If it wasn't the right one, she would grab the right blazer and say, bring him this one. She paid attention to all details. She wanted to make sure the White House was as lovely as any European palace.

Their love affair was genuine. I talked to a White House usher and he said, at night, he would bring the president his schedule for the next day. He would go up to the residence and the two would be sitting there holding hands in the floral chairs in the residence watching a sitcom together, the president in his red robe, government-issued glassed, watching a sitcom and holding hands, and no one else ever seen that, that private moment.

BALDWIN: The notes that you read about, the letters exchanged on their anniversary of their wedding every year.

I want to take a break as we keep our eyes on these live pictures. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger there. We are watching for the arrivals of the First Lady Michelle Obama, watching for Hillary Clinton, former President George Bush. Stay with me. Complete coverage here of the funeral of former First Lady Nancy Reagan.




[13:41:56] LARRY KING, FORMER CNN HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: Did you know right away?



REAGAN: It was a blind date, as you know, a blind date. And I knew right away. Took him a little bit longer.


KING: Did you have to work on him?

REAGAN: I had to push him a little bit.

KING: But you knew right away?

REAGAN: I knew right away.

KING: What was it?

REAGAN: I don't know. He was so unlike any actor I had ever known. He wasn't talking about himself all the time, and my last picture, my next picture, let's talk about me, what do you think of my last picture. You know? He was interested in so many things. And he was nice looking also. Didn't hurt.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Nice looking didn't hurt. You're looking at live pictures. There's Diane Sawyer, a number of dignitaries, journalists, actors, actresses, former presidents, for and current first ladies here, all in attendance. About a crowd of about 1,000 at the beautiful Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. We're just about 15 minutes away from the start of a funeral that former First Lady Nancy Reagan planned for herself, down to the T.

And we were talking a moment ago about the love story between Nancy Reagan and, as she referred to him, her Ronnie.

Let me begin with author of the soon-to-be-released book, "First Women, the Grace and Power with America's Modern First Ladies," Kate Anderson Brower.

Turning to you, we were talking earlier about their first date and how it was a blind date, and it ended up going into the we hours of the morning, which led to dinner the next night. It almost seemed instant. There's this sort intangible magic between the two of them. Where does that come from?

ANDERSON BROWER: It was a chemical, natural thing. Just this deep love that they had that was genuine. One of the letters that Ronald Reagan wrote to Nancy Reagan in 1981 marking their wedding anniversary was he said if you would look at the west sitting hall and scooch down in his chair to make sure she was there. It made him feel good to know she was there. Another person said she saw the two of them standing there, after an event, and the president was getting ready to go to work, and Mrs. Reagan was going up to the residence, and the elevator doors opened and he held her hand and said, "I so wish I didn't have to go to the office today." There was something real not put on for the family.

BALDWIN: William Novak, let me go to you.

I think reading about the night's meeting, assassination attempt on the life of a president at the time, that rattled her to the core and profoundly changed I think perhaps leading to a more forceful first lady. She peppered the doctors with questions after she learned, of course, her husband nearly lost his life. How profound was that on her?

WILLIAM NOVAK, WRITER & AUTHOR: It was more profound of an event than we, the public realized at the time. He was he could easily have died and that was kept from us to some extent and we didn't know it until a few years later. This led, as far as we know, to her interest in astrology, something she hoped not to talk about in the book. I said I think we're going to have to. Donald Regan had blown her cover on that issue. It is not something she was proud to announce to the world.

The Nancy Reagan I met was a vulnerable woman who was grieving after the loss of both parents during the White House years, what was almost the loss of her husband. I don't think she ever got over that.

[13:45:40] BALDWIN: She talked, Carl Bernstein, about the famous quip at the time her husband said, "Honey, I forgot to duck." The bullet an inch from his heart. It was serious. They removed the bullet, and from there on out, how did that change her and her role at the White House?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know that it changed her. I think rather that she assumed she had to be his are protector not physically but from those around him that did not want to do what he wanted to do as president and were reluctant to follow his orders. Famously, Alexander Haig, the White House chief of staff, she didn't like. There was Donald Regan, another chief of staff, who she was responsible for getting rid of.

But I think the really important thing that we need to remember about Nancy Reagan was her ability to reach out to those who were not of the same political beliefs as she or her husband. She had a great relationship with the wife of Speaker Tip O'Neill. And, of course, President Reagan also had a good relationship with O'Neill.

There were reporters she really liked. Mike Wallace was a great, life-long friend of hers. I had a friendship with her that was such more distant but it was real, I think. I didn't see her that often. But we talked about things that concerned her that had nothing to do with politics most of the time. She was very warm, gracious, and she brought that to the White House.

But I think in terms of being Ronald Reagan's protector and famously it has been written there would have been no Reagan presidency without her. She fashioned the presidency to some extent by enabling Reagan to be Reagan. "Let Reagan be Reagan" became a very popular cry among conservatives, but it meant something else to her, and it meant keeping from her husband people who she thought would do him ill, and there were a lot of them, and they were banished.

BALDWIN: She told her daughter, who recently recounted a story, that she wasn't afraid of dying, she just didn't want it to hurt because then she would be able to be with her husband again.

You are looking at live pictures as we watch the arrivals. You can see journalists are arriving at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. We are waiting for the arrival of First Lady Michelle Obama, former First Lady Hillary Clinton, several others. The funeral to begin in about 10 minutes from now.

A quick break. Special coverage continues right after this.



[13:52:33] KING: Do you realize how strange your marriage was? Well, strange is a bad word. Different.

REAGAN: I guess it was. But some -- who was I talking to this morning? Somebody. But we were talking about marriage. And I can't imagine marriage being any other way but the way that Ronnie's and mine was. And I guess that's unusual. KING: A little bit of a miracle, too, right?


KING: Something in the gods brought you together.

REAGAN: Fortunately.


BALDWIN: The nation is honoring former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Live pictured of Simi Valley, California, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The room jam packed. About 1,000 attendees from journalists, politicians, first ladies, former first ladies, former presidents in attendance to honor Nancy Reagan, who will be laid to rest inches from her husband there.

We're remembering, her life, and as we do so, we're talking about what she brought to the White House.

Stacy, let me go to you.

She truly brought -- she got a little bit of grief for this. But brought glamour, really, to the White House.

DR. STACY CORDERY, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, MONMOUTH COLLEGE & BIBLIOGRAPHER, THE NATIONAL FIRST LADY'S LIBRARY, CANTON, OHIO: She did. Glamour and sophistication and elegance that we haven't seen in the past presidency. I think this goes right back to her childhood when she grew up with a mother who was always the star of every show because her mother was an actress, and Nancy really enjoyed that magical world of the theater.

BALDWIN: She redecorated the White House. She ordered a massively expensive full set of china, which she got criticism for, but later, down the road, you say Hillary Clinton was grateful for that.

CORDERY: Yeah, when the Clintons got the White House, it was the only full set of China available.


CORDERY: Right. And she raised more than $200,000 in private donations. But he led to the whole clean Nancy image. She understood that she was one of the least popular first ladies but, you know, she -- for her, it was about bringing glamour back. Jackie Kennedy had a lot of appreciation for her, bringing Frank Sinatra to the White House to perform, bringing a sense of glamour back that someone like Jackie Kennedy didn't see with Rosalynn Carter. When the Gorbachevs came, Nancy Reagan went to the florist and told the florist to blow her socks off.



[13:55:20] BALDWIN: Changing the flowers three times a day.


BALDWIN: Incredible, David Gergen.

GERGEN: It's hard to understand how much reverence they both had for the White House and for the presidency as an office.

BALDWIN: How do you mean?

GERGEN: Reagan would never go into the office without a coat and tie on. He saw that as -- when he was shot, when to the hospital, he got out of the car and had to cross the driveway in to see the surgeons. First thing he did when he got out of the car was button his jacket, straighten up, and he walked across as the cameras were watching, and when he got out of camera range, he collapsed into the arms surgeons. But they cared about the office --


BALDWIN: The jacket with the bullet in it that's extraordinary.

GERGEN: It was. But the classy quality they wanted to bring there was associated, it was all of the piece about how you look at that office. They put it up on a pedestal. I think she would be appalled by the kind of politics we see today and the kinds of conversations we're having at some of the rallies and some of the debates that we have.

Carl Bernstein, to you. After Reagan wrote the letter announcing he had Alzheimer's, passed away in 2004, you know, she really protected his image in those final years. She wanted to cure Alzheimer's disease.

BERNSTEIN: I think that's what all of us are getting at here. When she saw Alzheimer's was doing to this to the man that she loved, who was her life, she instantly understood what it meant to others as well who were going through this. She talked about it with friends. The fact it was a Republican right wing thing, that stem cell research was off limits for religious reasons, she just said to hell with that, that we need to save people from this terrible scourge that we are seeing what it's doing to Ronnie.

She was a private person in some ways but on this she wanted to get out in front. I'm thinking the first time I met her, I was on an eastern shuttle plane from New York to Washington. I'm surprised she was on the plane. She had the front bulk head seat with Secret Service agents. She was tired. Her feet were up against the bulk head. But I being a reporter decided to try to start a conversation from a couple seats away. She invited me up. And she wanted to know about Washington. She said that they were unfamiliar, she was unfamiliar, with Washington. She was kind of trepiditious, almost girlish trepidation about the city itself. She got a handle on it quickly. But she was a stranger to Washington. And thereafter, you could see her ability to master a system in some ways better than he did because she understood the dangers that in some ways -- David Gergen can talk to this -- he had a kind of naive side in some ways in which he believed there was not much ill in people in terms of what they wanted to do to him. And this -- even after the shooting, she had --


BALDWIN: Let me jump in, Carl, because we're watching some extraordinary pictures. Here is the First Lady Michelle Obama. She was followed in by former President George W. Bush, his wife, Laura Bush, behind them, Hillary Clinton, all being seated here at the front row of Nancy Reagan's funeral, which will start in just a couple minutes from now.

Bill Novak, I wanted to get to you, because I think it's important to talk about the significance of the Reagan family, the children. They will be reading here at the funeral. Can you just tell me their relationship, Patty and Ron, specifically with their parents?

NOVAK: That's a complicated story, but I wanted to follow up on something Carl Bernstein said. He more or less made this point. I want to make it explicitly. She was not a very ideological person. She was a pragmatist. She had many friends who were liberals. And she moved him, especially with the Gorbachevs, in making some kind of settlement with the Soviet Union.