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Greg Bluestein

Nancy Reagan’s Georgia connection

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State Rep. Joe Wilkinson stands in front of a photo that Nancy Reagan gave him.

State Rep. Joe Wilkinson poses in front of a photo that Nancy Reagan gave him. Greg Bluestein/AJC.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday of congestive heart failure at the age of 94, built a deep connection to Georgia during her husband’s time in the White House.

Here’s a snippet of the AJC’s premium edition story on her ties to Georgia, in a piece written with Andria Simmons:

Joe Wilkinson, a state representative in Sandy Springs, worked in the White House press office in the Reagan administration. He said Nancy Reagan could “see right through people.”

“If you’ve got a jolly commanding officer, you better have one tough executive officer who is your No. 2,” said Wilkinson. “And she was. She was very protective of the president.”

Her most high-profile cause as first lady was her “Just Say No” campaign warning young people about drug abuse. Each year, she would travel to Atlanta to participate in the Parents Resource Institute Drug Education (PRIDE) Foundation conference hosted by Georgia State University. At one, Wilkinson said she wound up at a table with actor William Shatner, who bent her ear on a nutritional fad he had embraced. When he asked her how it went afterward, she shrugged.

“She said, ‘Sweetie, you forget I’m from California. I’ve got friends who will only eat butterfly wings and lettuce every day,’” Wilkinson recalled.

More: Read more about Nancy Reagan’s Peach State connection here.