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Mila and Brian Mulroney, left, pose with Ronald and Nancy Reagan at the Shamrock Summit in Quebec City, 1985. Photo of the Mulroneys and the Reagans taken by Jeff Goode/Toronto Star March 18, 1985.Jeff Goode

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney says Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday, wielded more power in the Republican White House of husband Ronald Reagan than most people realize.

"Nancy was … probably the most influential counsellor that President Ronald Reagan had," Mr. Mulroney said of Mrs. Reagan, whose death was attributed to congestive heart failure. She was 94 and died in her Bel Air home in Los Angeles.

"This was not widely known but her influence on him was really remarkable – and on him and his policies," the former Canadian politician said in an interview.

Mr. Mulroney took office in 1984 as prime minister, right in the middle of the conservative Reagan era of American politics, and he developed a strong relationship with Mr. Reagan. Mr. Mulroney and his wife, Mila, became good friends of the Reagans, who dominated the U.S. political scene for much of the 1980s.

"While she didn't speak out publicly, there was little of influence that went by in the White House in America that she did not talk to him privately about," the former Progressive Conservative leader said of Mrs. Reagan.

"When she had something to say, or a strong opinion, I know for a fact he paid a lot of attention to it."

Mr. Reagan, who finished his second term as president in January, 1989, battled with Alzheimer's before passing away in 2004. As a fervent anti-communist and advocate of tax cuts to spur economic growth, Mr. Reagan also tended to the U.S.-Canada relationship with Mr. Mulroney, signing a free-trade deal, a treaty to fight acid rain and an agreement on Arctic sovereignty.

Mr. Mulroney said he was "very sad" to hear of Mrs. Reagan's passing, calling her an impressive person who dedicated many of her years following her husband's death to reinforce the memory of Mr. Reagan's achievements, including supervising the assembly of the Reagan presidential library in Simi, Calif.

"She had organized everything from the state funeral when he died until the time of her own death," Mr. Mulroney said. "She did an enormous amount to cement that legacy in the years following his retirement."

He said the Reagans were a special couple. "It was such a love affair that if you hadn't seen it up close and personal you would have had trouble understanding the extent to which she wanted to be reunited with him," Mr. Mulroney said.

"She saw deliverance in her own struggle because ultimately she wanted to be reunited with Ron."

In a statement Sunday, the former Canadian prime minister praised the Reagans as "good friends of Canada." He added: "I will always remember our wives together at Ottawa Airport, and President Reagan saying to me: 'You know, Brian, for a couple of Irishmen, we sure married up.'"

Mr. Mulroney praised the value of the close relationship he had with President Reagan while serving as prime minister. "When you have nearly 200 countries in the world now, all of whose presidents are trying to get a hearing with the Oval Office, in the White House, you can't be too close. There's only so much time to go around."