An Eerie Foreshadowing of Last Week's Assault Underscores the President's Vulnerability
updated 04/13/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 04/13/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST
But every public figure in America must live with the possibility of irrational violence, or even death, not least the First Family. "I think you always have it in the back of your mind," Nancy Reagan said that day in 1975. "I hope it doesn't happen again." In her memoirs, Sheila Rabb Weidenfeld—the press aide to Betty Ford during both attempts on Gerald Ford's life—observed of their constant anticipation of disaster that "in some ways, it's more difficult for the relatives of potential assassination targets." Adds former Reagan aide Nancy Reynolds, a close friend of the current First Lady: "The concern and tension are always there whenever you go into a public place."
Last week's tragedy transformed that permanent anxiety into an acute agony for the President's family. Reagan's younger daughter, Patti Davis, was particularly "devastated" by the news, according to family friend Mary Jane Wick, who reports: "The fear of assassination was one of the reasons Patti didn't want her father to run in the first place." The normally unflappable Nancy Reagan was also deeply shaken. For years she had been able to put the possibility of violence out of her mind with a finely developed strategy of avoidance. "I've never asked about the threats on our lives," she wrote in her autobiography, Nancy. "I don't know how many there have been and I don't want to know." Last week, an assailant's bullet had finally converted all those threats from an abstraction to a terrifying and constant reality.