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Archive for Wednesday, August 8, 2001

Maureen Reagan, daughter of former president and actress Jane Wyman, dies of cancer at 60

August 8, 2001

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— Maureen Reagan, the outspoken presidential daughter who became a crusader for Alzheimer's disease awareness after her father fell ill, died Wednesday. She was 60 and had suffered from skin cancer.

Ms. Reagan, the first child of Ronald Reagan's first marriage, to actress Jane Wyman, died peacefully at her Sacramento-area home, said her husband, Dennis C. Revell.

"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 was "surrounded by loved ones after a courageous 5-year-long battle with malignant melanoma," Revell said. She lived 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 shortly after her death was announced.

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."

She 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 women 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 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Over the years, she was also a political analyst, radio talk show host, commentator and author of "First Father, First Daughter: A Memoir."

"My relationship with my father hasn't changed with the years," she wrote. "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."

She became a national spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Association after her father announced in 1994 that he had the disease and was beginning "the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life."

Ms. Reagan wrote movingly of her father's mental decline in an essay in Newsweek last year: "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 Alzheimer's research and family support.

"Maureen has been one of the Alzheimer's Associations most effective and passionate spokespeople," said Orien Reid, the association's board chairwoman. "She seemed to be driven by her love and devotion to her father."

In addition to Alzheimer's disease, she was 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.

Last fall, it was discovered the disease had spread and she underwent a new round of chemotherapy and other treatments. 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.

Maureen Reagan was born Jan. 4, 1941, a year after her movie star parents married. 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.

Despite a hectic schedule and family obligations, Ms. Reagan made regular trips to her father's home to visit the ailing former president.

Melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the United States. About 8,000 people in this country die from it every year, and almost 40,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

A public memorial service and Mass was scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 18 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Sacramento, followed by a private graveside service. Mrs. Reagan planned to attend the funeral, Drake said.

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