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Nancy Reagan: Visitors pay their respects at the presidential library in Simi Valley

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was closed Sunday and visitors, many of whom were unaware of Nancy Reagan's death, were being turned away. 

Some people had heard the news and came to pay their respects outside the library's entrance, located in Simi Valley, about 45 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Timeline: The life of Nancy Reagan>>

Andy Hall, 48, of Simi Valley, stood by the roadside on the hill leading up to the library, holding an American flag. Hall said he had served in the Army during the first Gulf War.

"He meant a lot to me," Hall said. "When he died, I came to pay my respects."

He said he was impressed by Nancy Reagan's devotion to her husband.

"It's not about his politics or her politics, it's about the love they had for each other," he said.

Julia Berman, 62, of Westlake Village, said she admired Nancy Reagan's "elegance and social graces."

"She wore that Reagan red so well," Berman said.

She recalled the Reagan years as a "golden age" for the country and the couple as consummate Californians. And as a widow herself, Berman said she was inspired by Nancy Reagan's strength after her husband's death.

"It really gave me strength just knowing how she would come to all the events, and I'm sure it wasn't easy," she said.

To Wendy Armstrong, a volunteer docent at the Reagan library, the late first lady's legacy was much clearer. She listed Nancy Reagan's breast cancer activism, her "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign, and advocacy for stem cell research as noteworthy accomplishments.

"She was a very criticized first lady, but I think when all the dust has settled, she will go down in history as one of the greatest first ladies," Armstrong said.

Melissa Giller, a spokeswoman for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, said the library would remain closed until the day after the former first lady's funeral, the date of which has not yet been announced. 

The Simi Valley Police Department asked motorists this week to avoid Madera Road near Presidential Drive, cautioning that the area will see heavy traffic for the funeral and other burial preparations.

After her funeral, Nancy Reagan will be buried on the library property, alongside her husband.

Giller said Nancy Reagan had been an active board member up to the time of her death, and had written to the pope and archdiocese to ask for support for the library's latest exhibit on the Vatican, which had been scheduled to open Sunday.

"She's really been the guiding force of the Reagan library for probably the past 15 years," Giller said.

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The former first lady used to visit the library six to ten times a year, Giller said. In recent years, as travel became more difficult, she had continued to travel there every June on the anniversary of her husband's death.

John Heubusch, executive director of the Reagan library and foundation, described Nancy Reagan's death as "the end of an era," both for the library and the nation.

He remembered Reagan for her elegance, glamor and fierce devotion to her husband.

"In Great Britain, when they had Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, they called her the Iron Lady, and that's who Nancy Reagan was to me," he said. "She was the Iron Lady of America."

Until her health began to fail, Heubusch said, Reagan had attended all board meetings and major events at the library, hosting former presidents and foreign dignitaries. And she remained highly involved up to the end, although she was unable to travel as frequently.

He also recalled that each June, she would sit by Ronald Reagan's grave. She will now be buried next to him.

"Every year on the anniversary of the president's death, she would be here, and she would spend some quiet moments at the gravesite all alone, just with her own private thoughts," he said.

He said he believed that Nancy Reagan had known her time was coming and that her last days were peaceful.

News of the former first lady's death reached Amy Patterson, 58, as she was preparing to attend church. With her two granddaughters, ages 1 and 3, she visited the presidential library and placed a bouquet and white candle outside the library's sign.

Patterson, who is also a widow, said she was struck by Nancy Reagan's devotion to her husband.

"When her husband couldn't speak, she was eloquently able to speak for him, she said, sobbing. "An era's gone now, with her and her husband."

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2:20 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from visitors to the Reagan library and foundation.

12:08 pm: This article was updated with new information about Nancy Reagan's funeral.

12:45 pm: This article was updated with new information from the executive director of the Reagan library and foundation.

2:34 p.m.: This post has been updated with a statement from the Simi Valley Police Department and more from Reagan mourners.

This article was originally published at 11:35 a.m.

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