Maureen Reagan, daughter of former president, dies of cancer at age 60
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Maureen Reagan, the outspoken presidential daughter who crusaded for Alzheimer’s disease awareness after her father fell ill, died Wednesday after a five-year battle with cancer. She was 60.
Ms. Reagan, the oldest child from Ronald Reagan’s first marriage to actress Jane Wyman, died peacefully at her Sacramento-area home, husband Dennis C. Revell said. Since being diagnosed with melanoma in 1996, cancer had spread to her hip and her brain, and she’d spent much of the last eight months hospitalized for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
”Ronnie and I loved Mermie very much. We will miss her terribly,” Nancy Reagan said in a statement released by Reagan chief-of-staff Joanne Drake. The former first lady broke the news to her husband at their Bel-Air home.
”Maureen Reagan has been a special part of my life since I met Ronnie over 50 years ago,” Mrs. Reagan said. ”Like all fathers and daughters, there was a unique bond between them. Maureen had his gift of communication, his love of politics, and when she believed in a cause, she was not afraid to fight hard for it.”
Maureen Reagan lived in Granite Bay with Revell and their 16-year-old daughter, Rita, a Ugandan girl they adopted in 1995.
The flag was lowered to half-staff at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. President Bush, former Presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton and politicians across the country also remembered the political activist, commentator, radio and television talk show host and health care advocate, sending their condolences to her family.
”Maureen was a devoted, caring daughter and mother. She fought tirelessly to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research and raise public awareness of the disease,” President Bush said from Crawford, Texas, where he is vacationing at his ranch. ”Our thoughts and prayers are with Maureen’s husband, Dennis, their daughter, Rita, and the entire family.”
”Maureen Reagan was a wonderful person, and we greatly admired her devotion to creating a world without Alzheimer’s disease and her dedication to her family,” Clinton said in New York.
”From the time I knew Ronald Reagan, I knew Maureen Reagan because there was no more enthusiastic advocate, first of his political promise and later of his presidency, than Maureen,” said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
”Their’s was a mutual revering, and heaven help any critic who took on President Reagan in her presence,” Lott said.
Maureen Reagan was born Jan. 4, 1941, a year after her movie star parents married. Ronald Reagan and Wyman also adopted a son, Michael, and had another daughter who was born premature and died a day later. They divorced in 1949.
In ”Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan,” author Edmund Morris wrote of her: ”Had she Ronald Reagan’s emotional discipline, she might be an assemblywoman somewhere. She is fascinated by politics, and is, if anything, a better speaker than he is, with an avid interest in every issue and a near Neapolitan fluency of gesture.”
Ms. Reagan made a couple of unsuccessful bids for public office, trying for the U.S. Senate nomination in California in 1982 that was eventually won by Pete Wilson. In 1992, she finished second among 11 candidates for the Republican nomination for a new House seat, capturing 31 percent of the vote.
An outspoken feminist, Ms. Reagan disagreed with her father on abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment. From 1987-89, she served as co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, and she created a political action committee that supported more than 100 female candidates.
She also chaired the U.S. delegation to the 1985 World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women, and served as U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.
Ms. Reagan wrote of her father in 1990’s ”First Father, First Daughter: A Memoir.”
”I still feel for him the same love and respect and admiration I’ve always felt; if anything, those feelings have deepened with time. He will always be a big, warm, cuddly teddy bear of a father to me, and I will always be his wise-eyed, precocious little girl.”
Four years later, she became a national spokeswoman for the Alzheimer’s Association after her father announced that he had the disease and was beginning ”the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life.”
Last year, she wrote movingly of her father’s mental decline in an essay in Newsweek: ”Earlier in the disease we did jigsaw puzzles, usually animal scenes: a farmyard, horses in a meadow, a jungle scene. We started with 300-piece puzzles and worked our way down to 100. Unfortunately, he can’t do that anymore.”
She traveled the nation to spread the word about Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. She testified before Congress to get more funds for research and family support.
”Maureen has been one of the Alzheimer’s Association’s most effective and passionate spokespeople,” said Orien Reid, chairwoman of the board. ”She seemed to be driven by her love and devotion to her father.”
Ms. Reagan was also dedicated to raising public awareness of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and promoting the importance of skin examinations.
She was diagnosed with the disease in 1996, undergoing infusions of interferon and other treatments. ”I had so many nuclear tests I was a night light,” she quipped in 1998.
The disease spread, and she underwent a new round of chemotherapy and other treatments last fall. But she was stricken with mild seizures on the Fourth of July, and tests showed the cancer had spread to her brain. She received radiation treatment and was released from the hospital July 23.
A public memorial service and Mass were scheduled for Aug. 18 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Sacramento, followed by a private graveside service.
On the Net:
Reagan Library official Web site: http://www.reagan.utexas.edu
Alzheimer’s Association: http://www.alz.org
American Academy of Dermatology information on melanoma: http://www.skincarephysicians.com/melanomanet/
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