Anne "Nancy" Francis Robbins - First Lady Nancy Reagan
Another cousin I discovered accidentally is the former First Lady, Nancy Reagan.
It turns out that Nancy and I shared common Great Grandparents (Henry Burt and Isett Sonder) making Nancy and I 10th cousins, 1x removed.
Nancy was born on July 6, 1921 in New York City, New York. Her parents were Kenneth Seymour Robbins and Edith Prescott Luckett. Nancy's mother Edith was my 9th cousin, 1x removed.
At birth her name was Anne Francis Robbins, but she was called Nancy. Nancy's father was from a once prosperous family and her mother, Edith, was a radio actress. Her parents separated shortly after her birth and divorced in 1928.
After her parents separation, Nancy was sent to live with her aunt Virginia and uncle Audley in Bethesda, Maryland. Edith was traveling the country in search of radio work. When Edith remarried in 1929, Nancy moved back with her mother and step father in Chicago. Nancy's step father was Loyal Edward Davis, a prominent neurosurgeon and Nancy took his surname becoming Nancy Davis when Loyal formally adopted her in 1935. Nancy always referred to Loyal as her father.
Nancy would attend Smith College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1943 having majored in English and drama. With the help from some of her mother Edith's contacts in show business, Nancy decided to pursue a career as a professional actress. In 1946, Nancy appeared on Broadway playing the part of a lady in waiting, Si-Tchun in the show Lute Song. The show starred Mary Martin and Yul Brenner was also in the show.
In 1949, Nancy signed a 7 year contract with MGM studios and moved to California. Nancy's acting career ran through 1962 when she retired as an actress. During her 13 years as a professional actress, Nancy would appear in 11 feature films alongside Hollywood notables such as Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Cyd Charisse, and Glen Ford. Nancy would also appear in numerous TV shows.
On November 15, 1949, Nancy met fellow actor Ronald Reagan. At the time Reagan was President of the Screen Actor's Guild and Nancy had seen her name on a "blacklist". She sought Reagan's help in having her name removed from the blacklist only to find out it was another Nancy Davis and not her name which was on the list.
The two hit it off and soon began dating and caught the notice of the Hollywood press. Reagan, who was recently divorced from actress Jane Wyman, was not exclusively dating Nancy. However, after 3 years of dating, the two decided to marry and on March 4, 1952, the couple became husband and wife.
Their marriage would produce two children, Patricia Ann Reagan (better known as Patti Davis) who was born on October 21, 1952 (Nancy was already pregnant when she and Ronald married) and Ronald Prescott Reagan, born on May 20, 1958. Over the years there was well publicized controversy between Nancy, Ronald and their children/step children. Periods of estrangement were common and their feuds were often fodder for the media during Ronald and Nancy's terms in the White House.
Ronald Reagan left acting and took up politics and became Governor of California in 1967, an office he would hold until 1975. Ronald had his sights set on the Presidency of the United States and ran for the Republican nomination in 1968 and in 1976, failing both times to receive the nomination. Finally, in 1980, Reagan received the Republican nomination and won the US Presidential election by a landslide. The Reagan's moved into the White House as President and First Lady in January, 1981.
As First Lady, Nancy Reagan took an active role in restoring the White House as it had become run down and neglected by the previous administrations. Nancy wanted the White House to reflect the pride of the American public, and she accomplished just that. Rather than using public funds, Nancy secured private donations for the renovation and decorating of the mansion.
Nancy was well known for her style during her reign as First Lady. Glamorous, well dressed in designer clothes and jewels, Nancy imparted a sense of glamour that had not been seen at the White House since the days of Jackie Kennedy.
Nancy's style and elegance did not go over well with everyone however, and she came across as aloof and out of touch with the common citizen. However, Nancy's intentions were well meant - she believed that the office of the President should be elegant, dignified and held to the highest of standards. Eventually the public warmed to the Reagan's and Ronald would win the 1984 election and become a 2 term president.
Nancy did not take a back seat as other First Lady's had, and was very actively involved in behind the scenes decision making at the White House. As First Lady, Nancy also helped her husband to "warm" the relationship with the Soviet Union leader, Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa. The Reagan's close relationship with the Gorbachev's helped ease the tensions between the two super powers and, most would agree, helped to bring the Cold War to an end.
Nancy's term as First Lady will probably always be best known by her "Just Say No" campaign against drug use.
At the end of her husband's term as President of the United States, the Reagan's returned to California. Ronald was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, which ultimately took his life on June 5, 2004. During his illness, Nancy was always at the side of her beloved husband, protecting him and caring for him.
Nancy died on March 6, 2016 at the age of 94 at her home in Bel Air, California. Until recently I never knew of my family connection to Nancy Reagan, but looking back at what I remember of her and her husband as President and First Lady from 1981-1988, I am glad to now know that she was my cousin.