WASHINGTON – In speech and song, Washington just said yes to Nancy Reagan (search) on Wednesday, celebrating her stoic grace in her husband's final years, her drive as first lady against drugs, her fashion sense, even her fixer-upper skills at the White House.
Mrs. Reagan, back in the capital for the first major event since Ronald Reagan's (search) funeral in June, drank in the appreciation and, noting that it came from Republicans and Democrats together, said: "Perhaps we should do this more often."
Leaders of both parties, former Reagan Cabinet members and singer Tony Bennett (search) were among 575 guests at a dinner that raised $2.5 million for a presidential transportation pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.
Mrs. Reagan, in a sparkly white gown with rhinestone belt and pearl choker, said that 11 months after her husband died, she's still "overwhelmed and moved by all the kindness and concern from people all over the world."
Guests dined on asparagus and lamb lettuce salad, pan seared beef tenderloin, and peach, cherry and lemon sorbet terrine at the $1,500-a-plate dinner. Bennett sang several songs, including "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and "Fly Me to the Moon."
A video tribute brought back images of Mrs. Reagan's days in Hollywood, her campaigning for her husband, her time as California first lady as well as first lady in the White House. "It's hard to believe that I really did all that," she said.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (search) of Nevada, recalled the bond between the Reagans, saying the president's love of country was obvious to all but the love for his wife was stronger still.
And he praised her for her "Just Say No" campaign against drug use by youth, as well as her work to advance research into the Alzheimer's disease that progressively claimed her husband's mind. "The Reagan legacy continues to be felt," he said.
Vice President Dick Cheney called her the "very ideal of grace, loyalty and compassion," and put a word in for her decorating tastes at the executive mansion. "In that era our national confidence was revived, our faith in the presidency was renewed, and the White House itself never looked better."
Mrs. Reagan, 83, had a startling start to her day when a small plane strayed within three miles of the White House on Wednesday, leading to frantic evacuation of the executive mansion and the Capitol. She called the incident "that little extra thing."
A similar scare occurred when a small plane strayed into restricted airspace while Mrs. Reagan was in Washington for her husband's funeral.
The museum will feature a Boeing 707 jet that served as Air Force One during her husband's tenure and was also used by Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Clinton and the two Bushes before it was retired in 2004.