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Nancy Clark Reynolds, a Player in Reagan’s Washington, Dies at 94


Nancy Clark Reynolds, whose life as a Washington insider stretched from the Thirties, when she arrived because the daughter of a Latest Deal congressman, to her role as a confidante to Ronald Reagan and, finally, to her prominence as considered one of town’s best-connected lobbyists within the Nineteen Eighties, died on May 23 at her home in Santa Fe, N.M. She was 94.

Her son Clark Wurzberger confirmed the death.

Ms. Reynolds led a Zelig-esque life within the nation’s capital. Her father played poker with Harry S. Truman. As a young woman she dated J.D. Salinger and Jack Valenti, an ad executive who became considered one of Lyndon Johnson’s closest aides and later led the Motion Picture Association of America.

She was best friends with Nancy Reagan, but in addition with Anne Wexler, a former adviser to President Jimmy Carter referred to as the “Rolodex queen” for her extensive political connections.

Ms. Reynolds inhabited a Washington very different from today’s hyperpartisan battleground. In her time, congressmen with decidedly different politics might still clink glasses at a Georgetown reception and hash out a deal over canapés. Ms. Reynolds was considered one of a fast-vanishing breed of D.C. fixers — known sometimes pejoratively as hostesses — who knew find out how to create the social conditions to make those breakthroughs occur.

As a part of the Reagan transition team, Ms. Reynolds offered a critical link between the Washington establishment and the presidential advisers imported from the West Coast, including Michael K. Deaver, the incoming deputy chief of staff, and Edwin Meese III, a White House counselor and future attorney general. When the socialite Brooke Astor was planning a reception for the Reagans in Latest York, she got here to Ms. Reynolds for advice.

Ms. Reynolds began her profession as a TV journalist within the late Forties, when the medium was still in its infancy, and within the mid-Nineteen Sixties became considered one of the primary women to anchor a significant nightly news program, in San Francisco. She was known for landing high-profile interviews, including with Sonny Barger, a founding father of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang, and with Ronald Reagan during his successful 1966 campaign for governor of California.

That interview, which she conducted on horseback at Reagan’s ranch near Santa Barbara, so impressed him that he hired her as his press secretary. She stayed with him for his two terms as governor and thru his 1976 presidential campaign, handling celebrities (a not-unimportant task in California), easing tensions among the many hard-charging gubernatorial staff, and becoming a confidante of Mrs. Reagan, helping her navigate her recent role as a politician’s wife.

“Some people you’re feeling just totally at home with instantly, right?” Ms. Reynolds told The Washington Post in 1980. “Well, she’s friendly and warm, but there’s an important deal of reserve. It’s challenging to know her well at first. It takes time, nevertheless it’s value it.”

She didn’t join the administration but remained near it, hosting parties and opening doors for the White House on Capitol Hill. She was close enough to provide President Reagan reading recommendations, including a 1984 thriller by Tom Clancy, a not widely known writer on the time. Reagan loved the novel, “The Hunt for Red October,” and his very public endorsement of it made it considered one of the last decade’s best sellers.

Ms. Reynolds parlayed her political experience and connections right into a profession as considered one of a recent breed of Washington superlobbyists, opening D.C. offices for major corporations and later cofounding Wexler, Reynolds, Harrison and Schule, amongst probably the most powerful lobbying firms of the Nineteen Eighties and considered one of the primary to be led partially by women.

“What serves you well through the years is just the old gut response,” she told The Latest York Times in 1983. “Experience and contacts help, but ultimately it’s an instinct, an antenna. This city is an amazing amalgam of incredible people from all walks of life who’re elected to political office. You will have to be fascinated with the political process.”

Nancy Lee Clark was born on June 26, 1927, in Pocatello, a small city in southeast Idaho. Her father, David Value Clark, was a lawyer who won a special election in 1935 to turn out to be considered one of the state’s two U.S. representatives. Her mother, Virgil (Irwin) Clark, was a homemaker.

Moving to Washington, the Clarks lived within the Shoreham Hotel — de rigueur for brand spanking new members of Congress, who felt buying a house might appear presumptuous. Mr. Clark needn’t have apprehensive: He won re-election in 1936 and a Senate seat in 1938. He was a Latest Deal Democrat, but he made friends across factions and parties; his friends included Richard Russell, a conservative Democrat from Georgia, and Robert Taft, a conservative Republican from Ohio.

Washington within the Thirties was a really different place from the one Ms. Reynolds would return to within the Nineteen Seventies. In some ways it was still a sleepy Southern town, crisscrossed with bridle paths, on which she rode horses along with her father. Though the family returned to Idaho every summer, she graduated from highschool in Washington, then studied English at Goucher College, in Maryland. She graduated in 1945.

Already an experienced journalist, having interviewed film stars like Lauren Bacall and Anthony Quinn for her college newspaper, she got a job as a reporter for a Baltimore TV station, WBAL.

She met Salinger in Latest York, where he showed her around Greenwich Village and told her a few story he was working on for The Latest Yorker called “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” She advised him to vary the title. He didn’t.

Soon after, she married Bill Wurzberger, had three children and settled down within the suburbs. Once they divorced in 1961, she decided to start out over, moving back to Idaho along with her boys in tow.

One other marriage, to Frank Reynolds, a journalist, Republican campaign aide and lobbyist, also resulted in divorce. Along along with her son, she is survived by her partner, Bob Kemble; her sons Kurt Wurzberger, Dean Wurzberger and Michael Reynolds; and 4 grandchildren.

Back in Boise, Ms. Reynolds got a job because the host of a daytime talk show, and a couple of years later moved to San Francisco, eventually joining Governor Reagan’s staff.

After Reagan’s unsuccessful 1976 presidential campaign, Ms. Reynolds went to work for the constructing materials company Boise Cascade as its head of presidency relations; she later held the identical job for the manufacturer Bendix Corp., where she stayed — other than a six-month leave of absence in 1980 to work on Reagan’s White House transition — until 1983, when she left to hitch Ms. Wexler.

In 1981, Reagan named her the U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, a part-time role that took her several times to Africa. She fell in love with the continent and particularly its prehistory; after becoming friends with the paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, she joined him on several of his digs within the Rift Valley, in eastern Africa.

She and Ms. Wexler sold their firm in 1990, and shortly after, Ms. Reynolds moved to Santa Fe.

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