Edith Luckett Davis, a former Broadway actress and the mother of First Lady Nancy Reagan, died Monday of a stroke at her Phoenix home, White House officials announced. She was 91.
President Reagan informed his wife of the news after learning that Mrs. Davis had died shortly after noon from a stroke she suffered in her sleep, Mrs. Reagan’s press secretary, Elaine Crispen, said in Washington. The Reagans are flying to Phoenix today so Mrs. Reagan can begin planning funeral arrangements.
The President is to return to Washington tonight and fly to Phoenix again late in the week after arrangements are completed, Crispen said.
Mrs. Reagan, who underwent breast cancer surgery Oct. 17 and returned to the White House last Thursday, was described as “very upset.” Her mother had been confined to a wheelchair after suffering a broken hip several years ago, and Mrs. Reagan had been calling nightly to check on her fragile health. She last visited her in mid-August, Crispen said.
“Even though Mrs. Davis had been ill for a very long time, it’s still very hard to hear that news,” Crispen said. “I know Mrs. Reagan was very much looking forward to seeing her around the Thanksgiving holidays. Every year, when the Reagans go to the ranch (in Santa Barbara), Mrs. Reagan leaves a day early and usually stops in Phoenix” to visit her mother.
“She’s going through some old photographs of her mother. (She’s) very teary,” Crispen said.
Mrs. Davis, known by her nickname, “Lucky,” was a Broadway actress in the 1920s and performed with such stars as Walter Huston, Spencer Tracy and George M. Cohan. Her brief marriage to Kenneth Robbins produced her daughter, after which she divorced Robbins and resumed her show business career. Her schedule after the divorce required the 2-year-old Nancy to spend considerable time with one of Mrs. Davis’ sisters in Maryland--a fact Mrs. Reagan later recalled with both pain and understanding.
Career Was Necessary
“My mother had to work,” the First Lady once said, describing how much she “missed mother when I was apart from her, how I looked forward to and loved my visits with her, how few visits there were, and how I always had to leave.”
She later met a doctor named Loyal Davis on a voyage to England, married again and gave up her stage career to become a housewife. Her new husband, who adopted Nancy Robbins when she was 14, was a pioneering brain surgeon who served for 30 years as chief of surgery at Northwestern University Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Loyal Davis died in 1982 at age 86. After his death, Mrs. Davis moved from the large home they shared in Phoenix to a small apartment about a block away.
During the 24 years she lived in Phoenix, Mrs. Davis volunteered much of her time to health-care organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the United Cerebral Palsy Crusade. In 1983, she was awarded the Arizona Lifetime Achievement Award for her service to the mentally retarded. The award was later renamed the Edith Davis Award in her honor.
In recent years, on his wife’s birthday, the President would send flowers to Mrs. Davis, thanking her for giving birth to his wife.
“They broke the mold after they made my mother,” Mrs. Reagan--herself a former actress--wrote in a 1984 tribute. “If I could be half the woman she is, I’d be happy. . . .” She described her mother as having a “delicious, wicked, wonderful sense of humor” and a “fierce loyalty to her family,” which includes the First Lady’s stepbrother, Richard Davis, and seven grandchildren.