Video: Nancy Reagan's White House homecoming

updated 6/2/2009 7:55:49 PM ET 2009-06-02T23:55:49

President Barack Obama signed one for the Gipper.

With the stroke of a pen Tuesday, Obama created the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission, an 11-person panel that will plan and carry out activities to mark the 100th anniversary, in 2011, of the president's birth.

His widow, Nancy, watched as Obama signed the bill in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.

Obama invoked the 40th president's trademark optimism, calling him a leader who understood that the bonds that unite Americans are stronger than the disagreements that divide them, the political parties included. He also said Reagan's sunny outlook was sorely needed during a difficult time of economic and global challenges.

"That was powerful. That was important. And we are better off for the extraordinary leadership that he showed," Obama said.

Walks with a cane
Escorted into the room by Obama, Mrs. Reagan clutched his right arm and walked with the aid of a cane. The former first lady, 87 and frail, broke her pelvis last year after falling at her home in Los Angeles.

She made no formal remarks Tuesday but bellowed a hearty "OK," when Obama said, "Ms. Reagan, let's go sign this bill."

When he put pen to paper she exclaimed, "Oh, you're a lefty."

"I am a lefty," Obama replied.

The commission will make recommendations and help federal, state and local governments and civic groups commemorate the 100th anniversary of Reagan's birth. That may include issuing a postage stamp or a $1 coin, or convening a joint session of Congress.

Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911, and died June 5, 2004, at age 93. He had a successful movie career — as the dying football player George Gipp in "Knute Rockne: All American" he hoped his team would "win just one for the Gipper" — before he entered politics.

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In an interview in the July issue of Vanity Fair magazine, Mrs. Reagan said she thought Obama missed an opportunity by not inviting her to the White House this year when he announced he was reversing President George W. Bush's policy on embryonic stem cell research. She became an advocate for such research after her husband was diagnosed with the mind-destroying Alzheimer's disease.

'Her candor and her courage'
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Tuesday lauded "her candor and her courage" in advocating for such research and said, "We certainly meant no slight whatsoever."

Obama, during his remarks, added that many people were inspired by her advocacy.

During his transition to the White House, Obama committed a faux pas at Mrs. Reagan's expense when he said he had received advice from all "living" former presidents, but joked that he "didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances."

Obama apologized by telephone later that day. Mrs. Reagan had consulted with astrologers during her White House years, but she did not hold conversations with the dead.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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