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Reagan Joins His Wife in Mourning Death of Her Mother

October 31, 1987

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) _ President Reagan on Saturday eulogized his mother-in-law, Edith Luckett Davis, as one who ″gave wit and charm and kindliness throughout all her life.″

Speaking at memorial services for Nancy Reagan’s mother, the president said he became acquainted with Mrs. Davis when he was courting the then-Nancy Davis in Hollywood, where they were both acting in the movies.

″I have never been able to tell a mother-in-law story or joke since,″ said Reagan, known as a great story teller.

In what he said was a paraphrase of Winston Churchill, the president said, ″Meeting her was like opening a bottle of champagne.″

The president addressed about 220 mourners at St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church, which Mrs. Davis and her late husband, Dr. Loyal Davis, attended at times although they were Presbyterian.

The Rev. John Doran, a former pastor of the church who was a friend of the Davises, recalled Mrs. Davis as ″a very happy person″ who was a leader of work in behalf of St. Thomas’ parish.

″When she said something, it happened,″ said Father Doran, who is now retired and living in California.

Mrs. Davis died of a stroke in her sleep on Monday at the age of 91.

Elaine Crispen, the first lady’s press secretary, said the president asked Mrs. Reagan whether he could deliver some ″personal reflections″ at the service.

″He said he wanted to do it,″ Mrs. Crispen said. ″She was very touched,″ the spokeswoman said of Mrs. Reagan.

Mrs. Reagan, who wore a black suit and white blouse, appeared somber as she entered the church. The president also was attired in black.

Although journalists attending the ceremony could not view the first couple, it appeared Mrs. Reagan had been weeping during the ceremony because she wore tinted sunglasses as she left the church, which she had not worn when she entered.

″She was very teary...,″ Mrs. Crispen said later of the first lady. ″I saw a lot of Kleenex and hankies.″

However, the spokewoman said Mrs. Reagan did giggle a few times and shake her head in agreement when the president and the Rev. Doran related humorous anecdotes about her mother.

Mrs. Reagan, who had arranged to have a small nosegay placed near the altar with a note reading, ″I love you,″ was wearing a tiny ring on her little finger that had belonged to her mother, Mrs. Crispen said. The ring, she noted, was engraved with the initials E and N, standing for Edie and Nancy.

The altar of the church was decorated with numerous bouquets of white lillies, carnations and gladiolas and large sprigs of greenery.

The order of service included a reading of the 23rd Psalm, Mrs. Davis’ favorite, a soloist singing ″The Lord’s Prayer,″ and hymns sung by the Phoenix Boy’s Choir.

The former actress had appeared on stage and radio with such theatrical greats as George M. Cohan, Spencer Tracy, Walter Huston and Zasu Pitts.

Known as a fiesty and zestful character who loved to crack jokes, the young actress gave up the stage after marrying Davis, a physician from Chicago. Davis later adopted Nancy, who was born shortly before Mrs. Davis’ first marriage broke up.

Throughout Mrs. Davis’ married life and after her retirement in Phoenix, she was renowned for her tireless volunteer activities, particularly on behalf of retarded children.

The first lady and president flew to Phoenix on Tuesday to make funeral arrangements, but the president returned to Washington for several days.

Family members gathered for the memorial included the Reagans’ son, Ron and his wife Doria.

The president’s older son, Michael, as well as his daughter, Maureen, and her husband, Dennis Revell, also came for the service.

Reagan arrived Friday evening aboard Air Force One from Washington after announcing he would meet Dec. 7 with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to sign an arms accord banning intermediate range nuclear weapons. It will be their third summit meeting.

The Reagan family shared an evening ″together as a family,″ Mrs. Crispen said. ″The president has had a very busy week.″

Patti Davis, 35, who uses her mother’s maiden name, sent word that she would not be able to change her travel plans to attend the service. Mrs. Crispen said she did not know where Ms. Davis was traveling.

″It can only be an additional crack in an already broken heart,″ Mrs. Crispen said. ″I don’t mind saying it, because I think she’s (Mrs. Reagan) gone through an awful lot, and that had to be an additional hurt.″

Mrs. Davis’ death came only four days after Mrs. Reagan returned to the White House from Bethesda Naval Medical Center, where she underwent sucessful breast cancer surgery.

Mrs. Crispen said Mrs. Reagan’s recuperation from the surgery was ″much slower″ than normal because of the stress of her mother’s death and the funeral arrangements.

″Last night, she didn’t sleep well at all,″ Mrs. Crispen said, but added that the first lady was trying to eat well and rest.

Guests at the funeral included Mrs. Reagan’s surgeon for her cancer surgery, Dr. Robert Beart, the spokeswoman said. Other guests included former Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., actress Eva Gabor, television personality Merv Griffin; Dr. Oliver Behrs, a physician to the president and first lady; Roosevelt Grier, who had been active with Mrs. Reagan in her anti-drug program; singer Wayne Newton; Dr. Dan Ruge, the president’s physician during the first term; former Vatican ambassador William Wilson and longtime California friends Earl Jorgensen and Betsy Bloomingdale.

Mrs. Davis’ ashes were to be blessed and interred near her husband’s at a local cemetery, the spokeswoman said.

After the service, the Reagans scheduled a reception for mourners at the home of Mitchell and Doris Boich, former neighbors of the Davis family.

The president and his wife are staying the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, where they honeymooned 35 years ago. They planned to return to Washington on Sunday.