Nancy Reagan Says Farewell to the Chief

Nancy Reagan Says Farewell to the Chief
Bryan Chan/AP

06/08/2004 08:15AM

Accompanied by her once-estranged daughter Patti Davis, tearful former First Lady Nancy Reagan placed her hands and head to the flag-draped casket of her late husband Ronald Reagan at the presidential library in California's Simi Valley Monday.

Mrs. Reagan's gesture followed a prayer service and a military band's rendition of "Hail to the Chief," and observers said that she spoke some words to the late president, to whom she was married for 52 years. She was believed to have uttered, "I can't believe it," according to reports.

Looking fragile and exhausted, Mrs. Reagan, 82, left the service in the arms of her daughter.

Mrs. Reagan's pastor, the Rev. Michael Wenning, conducted the service, and after Mrs. Reagan departed, two dozen buses began shuttling mourners to pay their respects, in a vigil that lasted all day. On Friday in Washington a state funeral will take place. Reports say that Ronald Reagan's great friend, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, will speak, though her remarks have been previously recorded, given Thatcher's frail health.

Reagan, 93, died at his California home Saturday after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer's disease, though as Patti writes in an article for the upcoming issue of PEOPLE:

"At the last moment when his breathing told us this was it, he opened his eyes and looked straight at my mother. Eyes that he had not opened for days did, and they weren't chalky or vague. They were clear and blue and full of life. If a death can be lovely, his was."

Reagan's elder son, Michael, tells PEOPLE, "His last earthly look was at his wife, his next look was at the face of God."

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