Though this news brief is primarily about the death of an actual person, Nancy Reagan was also a public figure and emblematic of an era in American political history that has now also passed. The former first lady, wife of the 40th U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, died at age 94 on Sunday at her home in Los Angeles.

Her death occurred at a moment of considerable upheaval for the Republican Party, in which her husband is widely revered as a heroic figure. President Reagan’s name has been invoked at one point or another by every GOP presidential candidate on the 2016 campaign trail.

The New York Times’ obituary touched on many of the facets of her role vis-a-vis her husband, which was more complex than its traditional packaging may have indicated:

Mrs. Reagan was a fierce guardian of her husband’s image, sometimes at the expense of her own, and during Mr. Reagan’s improbable climb from a Hollywood acting career to the governorship of California and ultimately the White House, she was a trusted adviser.

[…] Mrs. Reagan helped hire and fire the political consultants who ran her husband’s near-miss campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976 and his successful campaign for the presidency in 1980.

She also played a seminal role in the 1987 ouster of the White House chief of staff, Donald T. Regan, whom Mrs. Reagan blamed for ineptness after it was disclosed that Mr. Reagan had secretly approved arms sales to Iran.

Behind the scenes, Mrs. Reagan was the prime mover in Mr. Reagan’s efforts to recover from the scandal, which was known as Iran-contra because some of the proceeds from the sale had been diverted to the contras opposing the leftist government of Nicaragua. While trying to persuade her stubborn husband to apologize for the arms deal, Mrs. Reagan brought political figures into the White House, among them the Democratic power broker Robert S. Strauss, to argue her case to the president.

Mr. Reagan eventually conceded that she was right.

Nancy Reagan also veered from the conventional script by seeking guidance from astrologist Joan Quigley to help steer President Reagan’s decisions in the White House. The Los Angeles Times pulled up an archived story about that star-crossed connection after the news of Mrs. Reagan’s death broke:

In Nancy Reagan’s memoir, “My Turn,” the former first lady said she called Quigley in the aftermath of an assassination attempt on the president. “I’m scared every time he leaves the house,” she told Quigley, seeking advice on the timing of President Reagan’s comings and goings.

Quigley later said that over the next seven years, she issued guidance, for pay, that went far beyond mundane scheduling to matters of diplomacy, Cold War politics and even the timing of the president’s cancer surgery.

Nancy Reagan downplayed Quigley’s influence when news that the first family had an astrologer was met with a firestorm of criticism and jokes. But the scorned Aries astrologer struck back.

“I would participate in a more intimate way,” she said in a 1990 Times interview, “than the publicly recognized insiders of greatest importance.”

President Obama released his own remarks about Nancy Reagan on Sunday, noting that she had redefined the role of first lady and adding, “Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.”

Democratic presidential candidate and former first lady Hillary Clinton sent her tribute via Twitter:

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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