updated 6/10/2004 12:25:02 AM ET 2004-06-10T04:25:02

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC HOST:  Your connection with the Reagan family, as a story so many have, is a letter. We know Ronald Reagan was a prolific letter writer. 
DEBORAH NORVILLE: He was a tremendous letter writer, and you know, I covered him like everybody else.

But when my first child was born in 1991, I got a letter that said, “Dear Carl Nikolai, your birth is cause for great celebration.” 

And it went on and was a lovely full-page letter, basically telling my son that great things that were expected of him and great love had created him.  It was a beautiful letter. 

HOLT: I hope you still have that letter. 
NORVILLE:  Honey, it is framed and on the wall at home.  My next connection with the Reagans really began after Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan went public with his Alzheimer's.  And I've been involved with Alzheimer's as a charity because I have it in my family.

And I reached out to Mrs. Reagan to see if she would participate in a fundraising event called the Rita Hayworth Gala, started by Rita Hayworth's daughter, Princess Yasmine Aga Khan. 

And she agreed, and it was one of the first times that she had gone out publicly, left her husband, which was a huge step for her to take, and contributed to an event that raised an awful lot of money for Alzheimer's research, something that she has continued to do with her book, the love letters book. 

HOLT:  Would you expect her still to continue to be active?
NORVILLE:  I would.  And you know, it's interesting, I've watched the funeral services with some friends of the late president and the first ladies and most of them believe that she is going to be to incredibly energized from this.  That yes, she'll take the period of mourning that one would expect someone who's gone through this 10-year ordeal of caring for a patient with Alzheimer's, but that she's really energized.

And it's a real conundrum for George W. Bush.  How will he say no to Nancy Reagan?  Not an easy thing to do. 

And so some of the Republicans  in there were speculating that the president would find a way to accommodate the First Lady's wishes with respect to this without backing down on the very important position. He's stated with respect to right to life and embryos. 

HOLT: Take me inside the Capitol, because you were in a room with about 100 other folks off of the Rotunda during the state funeral. 
NORVILLE: It was like an old home week for many of the people who were in there.  There was Secretary of State George Shultz, there was former Secretary Alexander Haig, there was Frank Fahrenkopf, who was the head of the Republican Party during six of the eight Reagan years.  The list goes on.  Prime minister Brian Mulroney, who was such a close confidante. 

HOLT: A lot of these folks hadn't seen each other for a long time. 
NORVILLE:  Many of them commented on that.  They said, you know, “This is really great.  I haven't seen this guy since 1989.”   Or “I haven't seen this guy since 1991.”

And so there was a lot of back slapping and trading old stories.  And everyone, it seemed, had a favorite Ronald Reagan memory, one that almost always ended with a chuckle and a twinkle in the eye of President Reagan. 

HOLT: And what were some of the thoughts and comments about what we saw here today?  What stood out?
NORVILLE:  I have to say as the eulogies were being read, I was closely watching some of Reagan's former cabinet members and there were three who, and I don't want to embarrass them by saying their names, but three who were more than once caught, you know, dabbing their eyes.

And I think particularly the vice-president's remarks were very well received, because it spoke to Ronald Reagan, the man.  As he said, no one remembers when he was in his mother's arms.  Those people have all gone on.

But went on and talked about the great things he'd accomplished that his parents might have hoped for but didn't really dream would happen. 

HOLT: And then I don't know how much you were able to see of the procession down Constitution Avenue. But we talked earlier about spontaneous applause, especially when Nancy Reagan walks out of the limousine.  And the crowd just applauded and you hear “I love you, Nancy” from the crowd.
NORVILLE:  And everyone in there was just commenting about the strength of this woman and yet how sad and how alone and how difficult, particularly there at the arrival here at the Capitol—when Mrs. Reagan and her escort were standing at the top of the ramp. 

And just how incredibly by herself she seemed, which is not the way in Washington one remembers ever seeing Nancy Reagan. 

HOLT: That's a great way to put it, because she was standing there with Major General Jackman as her escort, but you're right, there was that moment. 

Deborah Norville, thanks for stopping by.  We appreciate it, and we will see you soon.


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