Hosting a first lady: Local family recalls 1980 Reagan visit

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – An Indianapolis family has a unique connection to Nancy Reagan. The former first lady died Sunday at the age of 94.

Rex Early, the former chairman of Indiana Republican Party, hosted the first couple at his house when the Reagans were campaigning in 1980.

“The highlight of my political life was when the Reagans were here,” Early said while standing in his backyard. “We really loved having her here and being able to talk to her. [She was] very gracious, very common, no put-ons, no ‘look at me.’ She was a wonderful lady as far as we were concerned.”

The encounter happened on May 4, 1980.

“It’s a sad day, it really is,” Early said of Nancy Reagan’s passing. “To have them come out to my house, get to shake hands and laugh and talk to them, what kind of experience is that, huh?”

The event lasted for about two hours, and in the middle of it they had unlikely party crashers from people on a boat.

“[They] had a few beers and yelled at Ronnie (Ronald Reagan), and he came over and yelled back at them. That was fun,” Early said.

The Reagans were in town for a campaign stop at the Murat Theater. They were in the middle of a tough primary battle with George H.W. Bush.

Even with as tough as it was, Early said, they never would’ve used the tactics of the current primary race.

“I don’t think Reagan would’ve appreciated that yelling, screaming. And, of course, he’s the guy that said too, don’t say bad of another Republican,” he explained.

“Don’t say bad of another Republican” was Reagan’s 11th commandment, and it’s one Early said he saw play out in his own backyard.

“I hope my grandchildren after I’m long gone will say my granddad hosted Ronald Reagan and Nancy. That was the number one thing that could’ve happened to me,” said Early.

In 2002, a plaque was placed in Early’s backyard commemorating the Reagans’ visit.

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