Barack Obama speaking at SXSW, not attending Nancy Reagan's funeral
You might think Barack Obama decided to forsake a solemn ceremony for Austin's biggest party per this headline posted Tuesday by the conservative Daily Caller: "Obama To Skip Nancy Reagan’s Funeral, Attend Entertainment Festival Instead."
About eight hours later came the New York Post: "Obama picks SXSW over Nancy Reagan’s funeral."
That story noted Obama would be interviewed Friday at Austin's South by Southwest Interactive on how tech companies can help solve the world’s problems.
Unsaid: Obama committed to the SXSW event days before Reagan died.
The Post story further said the first lady, Michelle Obama, would attend Reagan’s funeral.
Not so unusual
"In recent decades," the story also said, "presidents have not attended the funerals of former first ladies."
With an exception, we found, that was the case through the past couple decades.
Former Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan attended Patricia Nixon’s June 1993 funeral while the sitting president, Bill Clinton, was represented by Vernon Jordan, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But in May 1994, Clinton delivered a eulogy for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at her 11-minute ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the New York Times recapped. Hillary Clinton, the first lady, had earlier attended Onassis’s funeral mass in New York, the newspaper said, which a frail Lady Bird Johnson likewise joined.
In July 2007, former presidents Clinton and Jimmy Carter joined the first lady, Laura Bush, and four former first ladies at the Austin memorial service for Johnson, the Washington Post noted.
And in July 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama attended Betty Ford’s funeral; she was joined by former President George W. Bush and predecessor first ladies: Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton, the Associated Press reported.
UPDATE, 5:07 p.m.: We asked the White House about the headlines suggesting Obama was poised to skip Reagan’s funeral to enjoy SXSW. By email, spokeswoman Jen Friedman noted that from Eleanor Roosevelt’s death in 1962 through 2011, multiple first ladies attended a first lady’s funeral with only President Clinton going to a graveside service; the nearly 50-year stretch encompassed seven deaths.
On Reagan’s passing, Obama and Michelle Obama issued a statement offering condolences and saying "we were fortunate to benefit from her proud example, and her warm and generous advice." The president also directed that the U.S. flag remain at half-staff at the White House and other installations until sunset on the day of Reagan’s interment.
UPDATES, 12:05 p.m. March 9, 2015 and 9:56 a.m. March 10: After we posted this story, a reader nudged that we'd put the wrong President Bush at Betty Ford's funeral; our story has been amended. Earlier, we came across a Facebook post by Jody Seaborn, who writes for the editorial section of the Austin American-Statesman, in which Seaborn suggested it's rare for a sitting president to attend a former first lady's funeral.
From Seaborn's March 8 post: "Only four times in U.S. history has a current president attended a former first lady’s funeral: Zachary Taylor attended Dolley Madison’s funeral in 1849 (and, really, who wouldn’t have gone to Dolley Madison’s funeral? She remains belle of the first lady ball); Teddy Roosevelt attended Julia Grant’s funeral in 1902 and Ida McKinley’s funeral in 1907; and Bill Clinton attended Jackie Kennedy’s funeral in 1994." Seaborn also noted this website on the history of first ladies: http://www.firstladies.org/.