June 28, 2001 -- For nearly seven years, Nancy Reagan has been her husband's voice, his public face, and the guardian of the legacy of the man whose presidency dominated U.S. and world affairs in the 1980s.
A new book released by the Ronald Reagan Library, Ronald Reagan, an American Hero, recounts her husband's golden days, as well as his twilight. It describes through pictures and narrative his life from birth to his days as an actor, to governor of California to presidency of the United States, to the present, including many pictures from the former first lady's private collection. (Click here to read an excerpt of the book.)
ABCNEWS' Diane Sawyer sat down with Mrs. Reagan and got an intimate portrait of what her life with the former president is like today. The following excerpts are taken from their conversation, beginning with her description of how they came to tell the world about his condition, while looking at the original copy of the letter in which Ronald Reagan disclosed the disease to a stunned nation.
Nancy Reagan: So we just went into the library and he sat down at the table. And he wrote it, gave it to me to read and that was it.
Diane Sawyer: And did he ever express fear to you?
Reagan: Never, never. I mean, in that letter, it [says it] "Now begins the journey that will lead into the sunset of his life."
Sawyer: (reading from the letter) "I know that for America, there will always be a bright dawn ahead."
Reagan: [The] eternal optimist.
Reagan: But, you know, Diane, there's so many, many people who are doing exactly the same thing as I'm doing. And actually I have some advantages that they don't have. I mean, I have the Secret Service. Emotionally we're in the same spot, all of us, but there are a lot of people out there who are going through this.
Sawyer: How many days do you say, "I can't do it. I cannot get through another day."
Reagan: You just don't say that. (Laughing) You don't.
Sawyer: You have said that it was a decision at some point to shut the door to the outside world for him, because that's what he would have wanted.
Sawyer: Would it make it easier, do you think, if people were in there with you helping, being a part of…
Reagan: Oh, no, because I know that he wouldn't want that. So, it wouldn't make it easier.
Sawyer: Is he walking?
Reagan: With help.
Sawyer: And so the effects of he hip surgery now are …
Reagan: Well, he can't. He has to have help when he walks, but the surgery's healed. It healed right away. It's amazing. He's an amazingly strong man.
A Progressive Disease
Reagan: That [picture] was taken at the house on his 89th birthday. It's hard to believe that was only a year ago. It's hard to believe that was only a year ago. It's hard to believe that he's 90. It's hard to believe that we've been married 49 years! (laughing)
Sawyer: Does a year change everything with Alzheimer's disease?
Reagan: Well, yeah, sure. It's a progressive disease.
Sawyer: But physically, he's still strong.
Reagan: Well, not as strong as he was there (pointing to another picture).
Sawyer: So much of your exquisite attention had been making sure that his day was his day.
Reagan : Uh-huh
Sawyer: Can you still do that?
Reagan: Well, no, now his days are pretty well defined. I don't have to plan anything.
Sawyer: He's at home most of the day now?
Reagan: All the time.
End of a Love Affair
Sawyer: Doesn't it seem cruel to you that this love affair has this for an ending?
Reagan: Well, you certainly wish that it was different. But, you learn something out of everything, and you come to realize more than ever that we're all here for a certain space of time, and, and then it's going to be over, and you better make this count.
Sawyer: You think he still knows how much you love him?
Reagan: Oh, yes. (Laughing) Yes, he does.
Sawyer: Did he believe he had been a great president?
Reagan: Well, he thought he'd been a good president. I don't know whether he thought he'd been a great president. I remember him saying something like: "All in all, not bad."
Sawyer: If you started a sentence and said, "If you just know one thing about my husband, here's what you should know … "
Reagan: I suppose what he said that what he'd like people to remember is that he made them believe in themselves again. And he did.