Maureen Reagan

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Maureen Reagan, lobbyist and campaigner: born Los Angeles 4 January 1941; married 1960 John Filippone (marriage dissolved), 1964 David Sills (marriage dissolved), 1980 Dennis Revell (one daughter); died Sacramento, California 8 August 2001.

Maureen Reagan, the headstrong and outspoken offspring of the 40th President of the United States, was proof of how family ties can be stronger than the most vehement of political differences.

"I gave up arguing with my daughter long ago," Ronald Reagan ruefully confided after one unsolicited and particularly virulent broadside from Maureen, over the Iran-Contra scandal which in the mid-Eighties almost wrecked his Presidency. But he loved her deeply, and the feeling was reciprocated.

In her 1989 autobiography, First Father, First Daughter, she described her relations with her father as exactly as when she was a child growing up in post-war California: "I still feel for him the same love and respect and admiration I've always felt. He will always be a big, cuddly warm teddy bear of a father to me."

In short, the daughter of Reagan and his first wife, the actress Jane Wyman, remained "Mermie", her father's childhood nickname for her. Her career too had similarities to his. Not only the movies but politics were in her blood. She claimed indeed that she became a Republican before him – a preference which emerged when she was an 11-year-old girl watching the 1952 political conventions on television because, she said, "the Republicans were better organised".

According to Ronald Reagan's biographer Lou Cannon, it was in a letter to Maureen in 1962, as he was mulling a run for the Governorship of California, that he first hinted he might make a bid for the White House. Reagan eventually became Governor in 1967 – by which time Maureen had been a Republican activist for fully seven years.

Around that time too, she had tried her luck in Hollywood, albeit with rather less success. True, there were bit parts in TV series and even in the 1964 Elvis Presley movie Kissin' Cousins, but stardom was not to be. "I went out on so many auditions that I began thinking of changing my middle name to Rejection."

In electoral politics she fared little better, her impatience and bluntness making as many enemies as her warmth and sincerity won her friends. In 1982 she was defeated in the Republican primary for a vacant US Senate seat for California, prompting Ed Rollins, a close aide of her father, to publicly describe her as the worst Senate candidate he'd ever seen. Ronald Reagan rebuked his official but, it was believed, did not disagree with the offending sentiment.

A decade later Maureen contested a congressional seat in the Los Angeles area, this time with her father's blessing, but again without success. Thereafter she became a talk show host, commentator and – after her father made known his affliction in 1994 – a national spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Association.

Maureen Reagan's most productive political work, however, was as a lobbyist and campaigner, particularly for the advancement of women, a cause in which her strong-willed nature and gift of communication was an asset rather than a liability.

During the 1980s she held a host of jobs, including leading the US delegation to the 1985 United Nations Decade for Women conference in Kenya, the presidency of the Republican Women's Political Action League, and co-chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. She also founded the Office of Women's Campaign Activities, a national group that supported more than 100 female candidates to political office.

On equal opportunities for women and issues like abortion, she was at loggerheads with her father, accusing his staff of refusing to recognise that women had a legitimate role in national life. None of this, however, jeopardised their mutual affection. Maureen Reagan was a loyal and diligent campaigner for her father. In 1983, she even moved into the family quarters at the White House, in full awareness of their differences. "If he hasn't lost his temper with me," she wrote at one point in First Father, First Daughter, "then he won't lose it with anyone."

Rupert Cornwell