A bittersweet anniversary

Reagans to celebrate 50 years of marriage today

— Ronald and Nancy Reagan celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary today, still inseparable after years together in Hollywood, the White House and, finally, in the shadows of Alzheimer's disease.

"Ronnie and I have been through so much together, but it still doesn't feel like 50 years," Mrs. Reagan said in a statement Friday to The Associated Press.

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AP Photos

Former first lady Nancy Reagan tours an exhibit featuring momentos of the Reagans' 50th wedding anniversary at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Mrs. Reagan is looking at the booth from Chasen's restaurant, the centerpiece of the display, in which the future president proposed to her in January 1952.

"I've been asked over and over again if there is a secret to staying married for this long and I'd have to say there isn't one," she said. "Marriage is never 50/50. One of you is always giving more, always compromising. And we've both done our share of compromising in these 50 years."

The couple is spending their anniversary together in their Bel-Air home with a celebratory cake, likely his favorite chocolate. This year, Mrs. Reagan laments, she will miss the traditional anniversary letter from her now-91-year-old husband.

"(It's) one of the days that I most looked forward to every year, since I always knew I would receive a special letter from Ronnie," she writes in the paperback edition of her book, "I Love You, Ronnie," being released today.

The book, first released in fall 2000, is a compilation of his letters to her that exposed the depth of passion for Reagan's beloved wife.

"He wrote me letters all the time, including on ordinary days and sometimes more than once a day, but our anniversary was always special," Mrs. Reagan said.

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The Reagans share a kiss on the former president's 89th birthday, Feb. 6, 2000.

The extraordinary letters continued for more than 40 years.

"They are a kind of lifeline � preserving the past, Ronnie's wonderful voice and humor, his character, and his special way of seeing things and expressing himself. As they bring back Ronnie in his own words, they help me go on into the future," Mrs. Reagan said.

The former first lady, who turns 81 on July 6, has been chief caregiver for the former president as Alzheimer's has taken its toll. Reagan has rarely been seen in public since his poignant 1994 letter announcing he has the memory-sapping disease.

Eventful beginning

The couple recited their wedding vows March 4, 1952, at The Little Brown Church in the Valley, a small chapel near Ventura Boulevard in the Studio City area. Actor William Holden was best man, and his wife, Ardis Holden, was the maid of honor.

The Holdens played host to a post-wedding dinner in their home, then the newlyweds drove 50 miles in the Gipper's new convertible to Riverside's landmark Mission Inn for their wedding night. It was then on to Arizona for a few days.

On the way back to Los Angeles, fierce winds shredded the convertible top and the brief honeymoon ended with Mrs. Reagan on her knees in the front seat holding down the top.

"We had to stop every once in a while so I could warm my hands," Mrs. Reagan wrote later.

Enduring affair

The couple's golden wedding anniversary is also being celebrated at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley with a room dedicated to the half-century love affair. There are giant photographs of them dancing, laughing and embracing.

The centerpiece is the booth from their favorite haunt, Chasen's restaurant. It's where the Gipper proposed to Nancy Davis in January 1952.

Mrs. Reagan got a peek on the eve of the couple's 50th.

"Oh my!" she said as she entered the room, memories sweeping across her face with a smile as she spied the red leather booth where she was swept off her feet by the dashing future president.

She paused to read anniversary cards and letters written in better days, loving missives beginning with "My darling wife," "My darling First Lady," "Dear First Lady" and "Mommie darling." In one he wrote, "Glad we're roommates."

"Oh my!" Mrs. Reagan gasped over and over. "I was pretty lucky, wasn't I?"

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