Former prime minister Brian Mulroney spoke at Nancy Reagan's funeral Friday, reading the handwritten love letter that her husband, Ronald, wrote to her on Dec. 25, 1981, marking their first Christmas in the White House.
Of all the letters the late U.S. president wrote, Mrs. Reagan treasured this one the most, Mr. Mulroney told The Globe and Mail.
"[He] was smitten with her," Mr. Mulroney said from Simi Valley, Calif., where he and his wife, Mila, joined 1,000 other guests and dignitaries, including former president George W. Bush, Laura Bush, first lady Michelle Obama, former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Rosalynn Carter, former U.S. president John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline, and journalists Tom Brokaw and Diane Sawyer, for the funeral at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The former first lady died on Sunday of congestive heart failure; she was 94.
Mr. Mulroney is the only Reagan friend to speak at both funerals – in 2004 he delivered a moving eulogy for the former president.
"It's kind of like bookends of a very golden era in American politics," Mr. Mulroney said, describing Mrs. Reagan's funeral as "very emotional."
Mr. Mulroney's presence at the funeral also caps off an extraordinary week for Canada-U.S. relations, which included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's three-day official visit to Washington.
The chemistry between Mr. Trudeau and President Barack Obama is being compared to that of between Mr. Mulroney and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
Mr. Mulroney noted, however, that Mr. Trudeau will not have the same amount of time to reap the rewards of a close relationship as Mr. Obama is at the end of his presidency. His and Mr. Reagan's time in office overlapped for five years.
"Apart from the pleasure of it and the delights of it, look at what was delivered for Canada," said Mr. Mulroney, reflecting on their friendship.
"I'll tell you we would never have gotten the free-trade agreement without Ronald Reagan. He intervened directly to make it happen. And look what has happened to us – it's revolutionized Canada."
The Reagans loved Canada, he said. In addition to the Canada-U.S. free-trade deal, he and Mr. Reagan signed an acid rain treaty and an agreement on Arctic sovereignty.
"We wouldn't have gotten those without President Reagan and she would keep pushing him," said Mr. Mulroney, who was referring to Mrs. Reagan's influence on her husband and U.S. government policy.
He said the seeds of all three agreements were sown at the so-called Shamrock Summit in Quebec City in March, 1985 – just six months after he formed government.
It was at that meeting that the two leaders and their wives famously sang When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, commemorating their shared Irish roots.
"They all started there as major issues on our agenda, and he followed through, big time," Mr. Mulroney said. "He made them happen because there was so much resistance to them all.
"No wonder I was singing," he said, laughing.
Mr. Mulroney considers it a "great compliment" for Canada that he was asked to participate in the funeral. He noted that Mr. Trudeau had a "good ride" with the Obama administration this week and he was in California speaking to some of the elite of the Republican and Democratic parties.
"It's a good week for Canada," he said about the country's relationship with the United States.
Mr. Mulroney's friendship with Mrs. Reagan continued until she died – he had lunch with her last year, describing her as frail but "sharp as hell."
She never missed the Mulroneys' birthdays or wedding anniversaries, and continued to be plugged into all of the gossip in Washington, he said.
Every Easter, Christmas and on her birthday Mr. Mulroney would send her flowers. Those times were very lonely for her, he said, because she was missing her husband. He signed the card, "from your other Irish admirer."
Mr. Mulroney said Mrs. Reagan had wished for a long time to be "reunited with her beloved Ronnie."
She talked to Mr. Mulroney about her funeral, telling him about being buried beside her husband, whose grave is on a beautiful plot of land next to the library, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
"Her grave is not only next to his but it's right up against his," Mr. Mulroney said. "She wanted to be only inches away from him."
Standing beside her flower-draped coffin in the library on Friday afternoon, Mr. Mulroney spoke about the great love between the Reagans. Then he read the letter Mrs. Reagan cherished most from her husband. She kept his love letters in a shopping bag in her closet.
"Dear Mrs. R," it begins, as Mr. Reagan describes the many roles his wife played – first lady, mother, companion at their ranch and the "sentimental lady I love whose eyes fill up so easily."
"Fortunately all these women in my life are you – fortunately for me that is, for there could be no life for me without you," Mr. Reagan wrote.