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URGENT Nancy Reagan’s Mother Dies

October 26, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Edith Luckett Davis, the mother of first lady Nancy Reagan, died of a stroke Monday at her home in Phoenix, Ariz., the White House announced. She was 91.

Mrs. Davis, a onetime actress who was the widow of Chicago neurosurgeon Loyal Davis, had been ailing for several years.

The White House said she died at 2:15 EST of a cerebral thrombosis, a blood clot in the brain and a form of stroke.

President Reagan was told first about Mrs. Davis’ death at 3 p.m. by Mrs. Reagan’s press secretary, Elaine Crispen, as he concluded an interview. He immediately went to the residence to inform his wife and remained with her the rest of the afternoon.

Mrs. Reagan, who underwent breast cancer surgery Oct. 17 and returned to the White House last Thursday, was described by Mrs. Crispen as ″very upset.″

″She’s going through some old photographs of her mother. (She’s) very teary,″ Mrs. Crispen said.

Mrs. Davis had been ill for some time and had round-the-clock medical care at her condominium. ″She died peacefully in her sleep,″ Mrs. Crispen said.

Tom Chauncey, a family friend who visited Mrs. Davis several times a week, was at her home when she died. He informed Mrs. Crispen, who said she told the president because she thought he ″should be the one to be with her.″

Mrs. Reagan last saw her mother Aug. 13 before joining her husband at their ranch for a summer vaction. Mrs. Reagan visited with her mother, who has been confined to a wheel chair for several years, a number of times a year.

The first lady ″called nightly. She checked on her every day and if her mother was asleep she talked to the girls who cared for her,″ Mrs. Crispen said.

President Reagan and the first lady will travel to Phoenix on Tuesday. Reagan will return to Washington on Tuesday evening while the first lady remained in Arizona. The president ″will return to Phoenix at the end of the week when funeral arrangements are complete,″ the statement said.

Mrs. Davis had lived in Phoenix since 1963, where she retired with her husband. The couple moved to the southwest when Davis retired as head of the surgery department at Northwestern University.

Davis died in August 1982 of congestive heart failure at age 86.

Mrs. Davis, often known by her nickname of ″Lucky,″ was born July 16, 1896, the ninth and last child of Sarah Whitlock and Charles Edward Luckett of Petersburg, Va. Her father worked for the Adams Express Co., and was transferred to Washington, D.C., where she spent her childhood.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Davis was known for her vivacious, outgoing style and kindnesses to those in need.

″They broke the mold after they made my mother,″ wrote her daughter Nancy in a tribute to her mother in 1984. ″If I could be half the woman she is, I’d be happy ....″ Her daughter described her as having a ″delicious, wicked wonderful sense of humor″ and a ″fierce loyalty to her family.″

Mrs. Reagan wrote that her mother, a budding actress, got her first break at age 14 when her brother Joe gave her her first job in a theater he ran. The singer Chauncey Alcott was to appear with his sister as an accompanist, but she fell ill.

Edith’s brother took her in to see Alcott, who asked whether she played the piano. She replied in the affirmative, even though she had no idea how to play and was hired.

″That day she went out and bought a toy piano and practiced ″My Wild Irish Rose″ all night,″ Mrs. Reagan related in the remembrance she wrote. ″The next evening, at the opening, no one was the wiser. She went on to appear with many of the theater world greats.″

Her career on the stage included appearances in New York with George M. Cohan and Spencer Tracy - who later became a close friend. She also worked with Walter Huston, Zasu Pitts, David Belasco, Louis Calhern and Alla Nazimova, the famous actress who became her daughter’s godmother.

The young actress was married briefly to Kenneth Robbins, a New Jersey businessman, but the union broke up shortly after Nancy’s birth, and the couple was later divorced.

She was forced to tour in plays to support herself and daughter, and entrusted Nancy to her sister Virginia Galbraith in Bethesda, Md. She was able to spend time with her daughter only during her prolonged engagements on Broadway.

Her life changed dramatically after her marriage on May 21, 1929, to Davis, a prominent Chicago neurosurgeon, who later adopted Nancy when she was 14. Mrs. Davis gave up her acting career and devoted herself to her husband, family and community work. Dr. Davis had one son from a previous marriage, Richard.

She organized the gift shop at Passavant Hospital, and became the first chairman, from 1938 to 1963, of the women’s division of the Chicago Community Fund, and served on the boards of the American Cancer Society and of the Passavant Hospital.

Her devotion to aiding the needy continued after her husband’s Arizona retirement, when she worked on behalf of a children’s program for the retarded. At one point she talked a local hotel executive into donating a small trolley that was to have been junked. Mrs. Davis got not only the trolley and 1,800 feet of track, but caboose lamps, decals and engineer caps for the children as well.

In recognition of her work, Mrs. Davis received the Arizona Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Retarded Citizens of Arizona in 1983.

In 1982, an endowed chair was established at Northwestern in the Davis’ names in recognition of the couple’s long association with the university’s medical school.

″It was too typical of him that he did not want this chair just named after himself,″ Mrs. Reagan said later. ″He wanted to acknowledge my mother’s contribution to him, his work, his life and everything she did for him. She was very much a part of his life.″

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