updated 6/9/2004 1:32:31 PM ET 2004-06-09T17:32:31

There is now an account of the last moments of Ronald Reagan.  In an essay, collected and published in next week‘s edition of “People” magazine, his daughter Patti Davis recounts, in detail, her father‘s death. 

Patrick Rogers is a senior editor of “People,” he has spoken with Ms. Davis throughout the ordeal.  He spoke to MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann about Davis’ essay.

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  This is somewhat atypical, I would suggest, the account of the passing of the leading public figure by a family member. 

PATRICK ROGERS, SENIOR EDITOR, PEOPLE MAGAZINE:  Well, Patti told us that the family knew that the end was coming and had known for a matter of days that President Reagan had pneumonia and the doctors told them this was probably the illness that, in the context of his Alzheimer‘s, would actually be the cause of his death. 

There were days when it looked like it would happen, when his breathing would just get so labored, the president would always get revived— he kept coming back.  Finally on Saturday afternoon, they knew that the time had come. Just after  1 p.m., as Nancy Reagan held his hand,  Ronald Reagan opened his eyes, he hadn‘t opened them in five days, opened them and looked right at his wife of 52 years. Then he closed his eyes and that was his last breath. 

OLBERMANN:  The exact quote from Ms, Davis, was “At the last moment when his breathing told us this was it, he opened his eyes and looked straight at my mother.  Eyes that hadn‘t opened for days, did. And they weren‘t chalky or vague.  They were clear, and blue, and full of love.  If a death can be lovely, his was.” 

From what else his daughter wrote, the moment seemed to be described as a liberation for Nancy Reagan, too. 

ROGERS:  Certainly after these 10 years, after the diagnosis which came with a death sentence, if you will, 10 years before this long journey had come to an end.  Nancy Reagan, we know, was exhausted, here in the last days, by this vigil that they were keeping and by the emotional roller coaster that it was. 

There was relief and there was release for this family.  And also, these are people of faith, there‘s a certainty, on their part, that President Reagan, his last earthly look is at his wife, his next look is at the face of God.  This is what Michael Reagan told us.  So, there‘s consolation there. 

OLBERMANN:  Peggy Noonan, one of Mr. Reagan‘s speech writers, was on the air with me, perhaps four hours after he died, that despite a decade of what amounted to notice, that this still felt like such a blow.  Do we get that from his daughter‘s writings and your conversations with her? 

ROGERS:  Absolutely.  Patti describes how her mother, in these last days, cried and sobbed and how Patti held Mrs. Reagan in her arms.  Patti said you felt that even if you‘re at the center of the earth, you could have felt the shaking.  So, even after 10 years, when the moment arrived, when death is at hand, you know, it‘s terribly traumatic.  It‘s heart breaking. 

OLBERMANN:  Patti Davis wrote more about that last flash of recognition from her father to his wife, quoting her mother as calling it, “The greatest gift he could have given her.” 

Writes Davis: “In his last moment, he taught me that there is nothing stronger than love between two people, two souls...it was the last thing he could do in this world to show my mother how entwined their souls are...and it was everything.”


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