Well-wishers pay their respects to Nancy Reagan

Story highlights

  • Thousands of well-wishers attended a closed casket public viewing
  • The former first lady died Sunday
  • She will be buried next to Ronald Reagan on Friday

(CNN)Fatiha Demijohn reverentially passed by the casket of Nancy Reagan and soon after reflected on a woman she began admiring from her native France.

"She was a mother, a wife, she was a sister," Demijohn told CNN. "She was poised, respectful, lady."
    "France loves Nancy Reagan," echoed her mother Adele Oudjaoudi, visiting from her homeland. "She was a great lady."
    The mother and daughter, who now live in nearby Thousand Oaks, California, joined 3,115 members of the public who took shuttle vans to the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to remember the popular first lady who died Sunday.
    "She had such a storied career," began Melissa Giller, spokesperson for the library.
    "Starting in Hollywood and following Ronald Reagan to Sacramento for the governorship ... Then of course to Washington, D.C. for the presidency. So her friends and her impact span all those different regions."
    Eight secret service agents who served the Reagans acted as pallbearers, carrying the closed casket to the public viewing.
    "It's just amazing," Joseph Harvey said. "It's just patriotic. I think no matter what party affiliation you are, it's just coming together. It's a thing we haven't felt in this country for along time."
    Harvey met Phiilip Bennett in the winding lines of conversing strangers who wanted the intimacy of saying good bye to Nancy Reagan in person
    "I always admired the way that she took care of or protected the President," Bennett said. "Even when he (President Reagan) was being attacked by whoever, the media and what not."
    Nancy Reagan will be memorialized Friday in a growing service that will be attended by former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, current first lady Michelle Obama, and past first ladies Hillary Clinton and Rosalynn Carter.
    Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Selleck and other celebrities are also invited.
    Workers are erecting a stage and bleachers for up to 1,000 people.
    A military band and choir will perform.
    "It's everything that she wanted," said Giller. "It's really going to be a great way to show our respect to her and help her with her final wishes."
    Nancy Reagan will be buried next to her husband, whom she called Ronnie.
    The simple, elegant gravesite faces west, a short walk from a large piece of the Berlin Wall her "Ronnie" ordered torn down, as his policies help demolish the Iron Curtain.
    A spectacular reprint of Nancy Reagan in a celebrated red dress from her official White House portrait welcomed visitors to her viewing.
    Demijohn gazed at the actual dress at the library many times before with her daughters, and Wednesday said farewell with her mother.
    Demijohn left a final thought.
    "Seeing her in that dress reminded me of the kind of lady she was."