With his disheveled clothing, cigars, puns, and signature Mickey Mouse ties, Lyn Nofziger was unforgettable. Those who had the pleasure of meeting him remembered well the good-natured man who served as Ronald Reagan’s press secretary when the former actor first ran for California governor back in 1966 and then went on to serve him in various capacities right up to his presidency.
But when he died last week at 81 after a long bout with cancer, Franklyn Curran Nofziger left his friends recalling many stories. He gave up a promising career as a reporter ("Don’t you dare call me a ‘journalist!’" he loved to say) to sign up with fellow Californian Reagan’s fledgling campaign 40 years ago. Nofziger soon became a Reagan man conservatives turned to when they felt that their hero was being pressed hard to move to the middle. Nofziger was always a steadfast keeper of Reagan’s conservative flame.
After service in World War II, Nofziger went to work for the Copley Newspapers and soon became a crack political reporter. As one of the few correspondents covering Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964 who also planned to vote for the Arizonan, Nofziger met many conservative activists around the country, including Goldwater campaigner Reagan. In less than two years, he signed on as press secretary for Reagan’s race for governor and, following Reagan’s landslide election, went to Sacramento as his top spokesman.
Almost from his first days with Reagan, Nofziger envisioned "the boss" as President and encouraged him to make a race for the Republican nomination in 1968. In Reagan’s near-successful run against President Gerald Ford in 1976, Nofziger was again his press secretary and, following the GOP convention in Kansas City that year, ran Reagan’s political action committee, Citizens for the Republic. Four years later, he served as a top operative in the campaign that finally put Reagan in the White House. During the Reagan Presidency, Nofziger became the first person to hold the title of Assistant to the President for Political Affairs — a title that would become a staple of future administrations.
Nofziger had his bad times. A long illness claimed the life of one of his two daughters. After his White House years, Nofziger was charged with violating government ethics laws while a private consultant. Following exhausting years in court, he was finally exonerated.
To the end, two generations of conservatives sought him out for political advice. As his health declined in recent years, conservatives would often stand outside his Northern Virginia home bearing signs proclaiming: "We Love You, Lyn."
"No question Lyn holds an unequalled place of honor in the Reagan Revolution," said Gary Hoitsma, who worked with Nofziger in the 1976 and ’80 Reagan campaigns, in the Reagan Administration, and with the Washington, D.C.,-based Carmen Group. "He was there from the beginning, and he was always motivated by the same conservative values of freedom and patriotism that Reagan inspired in his most loyal followers. Long before many others, Nofziger understood the secrets behind Reagan’s success. He would often recall how Reagan’s greatest political strength stemmed from the fact that this ‘former dumb actor’ was consistently and wrongly underestimated by all the ‘smart people,’ both in and out of the Republican Party."