Sometimes we are lucky enough to meet people that are so profoundly accomplished we never get to the bottom of their stories. And Nancy Clark Reynolds was so naturally modest that getting her to tell her stories often involved cajoling and repeated expressions of genuine interest. Take, for example, the time she learned the phrase ‘MoFo’. Not a term you’d normally associate with a slim, diminutive woman with piercing blue eyes and short pixie haircut.
As a daily news reporter for a San Francisco based TV station, she was given the task of interviewing the president of the local Hell’s Angels about increasing gang violence in the Bay Area. A rendezvous for the live broadcast was set up late at night inside Candlestick Park. Drawing up in the damp air, the transmission van pulled a short distance away from the circle of bikers and Nancy jumped out with her microphone, a cameraman in hot pursuit. As she approached, the Angel in charge (it may well have been Sonny Barger) sized her up. She introduced herself and he replied, “My friends call me MoFo. You can call me that, too.”
Eager to snag the exclusive, Nancy immediately agreed and began asking MoFo questions. She had never heard the term before. Besides, it was his nickname. What harm could there be? She knew that repeating a person’s name during an interview commanded their attention. Gales of laughter rocked the van, not least because the engineers had no way of editing the conversation going out on a live feed. Over the next few years Nancy became a mainstay of area news as the first anchorwoman for KPIX-TV. She remained the only newsperson the chief Hell’s Angel would talk to, “Because you called me MoFo”, he told her.
With the skills of a professional actress, she’d recount this tale and others with self-deprecating good humour. You got the feeling that making fun at someone else’s expense wasn’t something she was capable of. Her natural empathy and vastly underplayed intelligence led her on a dizzying career. Hers was a life where coincidence and opportunity intersected magnificently with ambition.
When Ronald Reagan was running for governor of California, she went down to his ranch seeking an interview. When told he was out riding, she saddled up and rode out to meet him. Being raised on a horse ranch in Pocatello Idaho had its benefits. A short while later she was asked to join the Governor elect’s team as his special assistant. Her relationship with the Gipper and his wife, Nancy, became close and lifelong. After Reagan was elected President, at his request Nancy moved to Washington and worked for the White House. She sat with and comforted Nancy Reagan when her husband was shot. When it wasn’t clear he would make it through the day.
The swirl of Washington politics whips up opportunities for the right people. When the call came, Nancy stepped forward. Reagan appointed her the Representative of the United States of America on the Commission on the Status of Women of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. A role that took her to Africa – a continent she fell in love with. She visited more than 80 times. While there she befriended the Leakeys and joined them on digs, engraining her passion for archeology. Of course she sat up front as Richard piloted the bush plane. Sharing her tent with a friendly python was merely par for the course.
Connections from her early upbringing in Washington D.C., when her father was a congressman there, proved as valuable as the new ones any administration fosters. Eventually she founded the first female led lobbying firm with Anne Wexler, a staunch democrat and mentor to Bill Clinton. Together they straddled the aisle in the service of bipartisan compromise. It was the kind of lobbying you want. The kind that keeps the gears of politics in motion by bringing together two points of view in search of common ground for the greater good. Something lamentably old fashioned these days.
I think she would have balked at the term ‘feminist’. She wasn’t trying to make a point; she was trying to do the best job she could in any given situation. That striving for excellence, and her desire to contribute, meant she said ‘yes’ when others might have demurred. Once committed, she would jump in with both feet. She was a woman who understood that the powerful combination of compassion and femininity had to be wielded with care, but that it had to be wielded if the world was going to become a better place.
I can’t speak for her family, or her vast network of friends and colleagues. I can only say that I was fortunate enough to spend time with her and hear the stories of her amazing life. Some told through the neatly presented folk artifacts that gilded the contours of her Santa Fe home. Stories that included water-skiing on the Nile, getting hijacked on a flight in the Middle East, owning a part of Rick’s Café in Casablanca, dating J.D. Salinger, and swooning when introduced to Frank Sinatra. Her home was a place that she sometimes shared with Carol’s dad Bob who has spent the last 15 years as her traveling companion, consort and confidant. We should all be so lucky to share in such love of life.
Nancy Clark Reynolds June 26, 1927 – May 23, 2022. Long may your journeys continue…
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