Remember the good old days when astrologers had some power at the White House? That era is gone with the passing of Joan Quigley who advised Nanacy Reagan who, in turn, advised President Ronald Reagan. And there are many who recall the Reagan administration with great fondness. Maybe, just maybe, using astrology to improve the timing of things during his tenure helped create his enduring success. Here is Joan's obit from the New York Times:
In his 1988 memoir, For The Record , Donald T. Regan, a former chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan, revealed what he called the administration’s “most closely guarded secret.” He said an astrologer had set the time for summit meetings, presidential debates, Reagan’s 1985 cancer surgery, State of the Union addresses and much more. Without an O.K. from the astrologer, he said, Air Force One did not take off. The astrologer, whose name Mr. Regan did not know when he wrote the book, was Joan Quigley. She died on Tuesday at 87 at her home in San Francisco, her sister and only immediate survivor, Ruth Quigley, said.
Mr. Regan said that Miss Quigley — a Vassar-educated socialite who preferred the honorific Miss to Ms. (she never married) — had made her celestial recommendations through phone calls to the first lady, Nancy Reagan, often two or three a day. Mrs. Reagan, he said, set up private lines for her at the White House and at the presidential retreat at Camp David. Further, Mrs. Reagan paid the astrologer a retainer of $3,000 a month, wrote Mr. Regan, who had also been a Treasury secretary under Reagan and the chief executive of Merrill Lynch.
“Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House chief of staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise,” he wrote in the memoir, “For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington.”
In an interview with “CBS Evening News” in 1989, after Reagan left office, Miss Quigley said that after reading the horoscope of the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, she concluded that he was intelligent and open to new ideas and persuaded Mrs. Reagan to press her husband to abandon his view of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” Arms control treaties followed.
Reagan denied that he had ever acted on the basis of heavenly guidance. In her 1989 book “My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan,” Mrs. Reagan described Miss Quigley as warm and compassionate but played down her influence. Mrs. Reagan wrote that the president, speaking of her astrological bent, had told her: “If it makes you feel better, go ahead and do it. But be careful. It might look a little odd if it ever came out.”
In the battle of memoirs, Miss Quigley may have had the last word. The title of her own 1990 book — “What Does Joan Say?” — was the question that she said the president had habitually asked his wife.
"What Does Joan Say," Miss Quigley's 1990 book.
The resulting brouhaha over the revelations prompted a comedian to wonder if there would be a “Secretary of Health, Education and Voodoo.” Religious leaders condemned astrology as a “devil’s tool.” Democratic politicians said they were glad to hear that Reagan, a Republican, had listened to anybody.
Members of the Federation of American Scientists, including five Nobel laureates, railed at the idea that government decisions might have been informed by “fantasy.” Carl Sagan later wrote in “The Demon-Haunted World”: “Some portion of the decision-making that influences the future of our civilization is plainly in the hands of charlatans.” The columnist Molly Ivins, writing in The New York Times Book Review, mused about historical paradox: “There the poor woman was, sitting in San Francisco with full accountability for world peace, and none of us even knew her name.”
Joan Ceciel Quigley was born in Kansas City, Mo., on April 10, 1927, at 4:17 p.m. — exact birth times being critical to accurate astrological readings. Her father, John, a lawyer, went to San Francisco in 1942 after buying the Drake-Wilshire Hotel. (It is now the Taj Campton Place, a boutique inn.) Mr. Quigley and his wife, Zelda, reared their daughters in a penthouse apartment in the high-end Nob Hill area and sent them to private schools. The “Quigley girls,” as they were known, were chauffeured to parties in a Rolls-Royce and regularly mentioned in society columns.
Writing about Joan Quigley, The Los Angeles Times said she had “come from the crème de la crème of San Francisco gentility, exactly the sort of woman whom Mrs. Reagan has embraced again and again as friends in California, New York and Washington.”
Joan Quigley graduated from Vassar with a degree in art history. Intrigued by her mother’s interest in astrology, she apprenticed herself for a year to a soothsayer named Jerome Pearson. Her father disapproved of astrology, however, so she prepared her charts in secret at first while busying herself with the Junior League and charities. After college she wrote an astrology column for Seventeen magazine.
Miss Quigley met Nancy Reagan through the entertainer Merv Griffin, a client. From 1972 to 1985, Miss Quigley was a regular guest on his syndicated talk show. A Republican, she had earlier worked on Reagan’s campaigns for governor of California.
After his victory in 1966, Mr. Regan wrote, Reagan delayed his inauguration by nine minutes, until 12:10 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1967, on the astrological advice of Miss Quigley. Reagan denied it, and so did his press secretary, who said the reason for the delay was to prevent the departing governor, a Democrat, from making any last-minute appointments. Miss Quigley volunteered to work in Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1980, she said, because she was dazzled by his stars. “He had the most brilliant horoscope I’d ever seen in this country in this century,” she told The Washington Post in 1988. Her relationship with Mrs. Reagan really began in 1981, after the first lady asked her if she could have predicted the assassination attempt against him that March. She said yes, if she had been looking at her charts at the time. The first lady, Mr. Regan wrote, then began paying her for advice on scheduling the president’s time and movements.
Miss Quigley wrote three books on astrology, calling herself “a technician and a very serious one.” She told The New York Times in 1988 that she took on “only people I find extremely interesting.” “I don’t take on ordinary people,” she added.
She met President Reagan only once, she said — at a state dinner in 1985 — but she said she knew the president’s horoscope “upside down.” She spoke of his “almost magical inner will.” After mining the presidential horoscope, she wrote, she advised Mrs. Reagan to urge her husband to cut short his controversial visit to a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, where remains of Nazi soldiers were buried, by skipping a planned hourlong picnic. She said he took the advice.
After Mr. Regan divulged Miss Quigley’s astrological role, Mrs. Reagan never spoke to her again, Miss Quigley said. She likened the slight to “buying a Picasso and putting it in your living room and putting adhesive tape over the signature.”
A version of this article appears in print on October 25, 2014, on page D7 of the New York edition with the headline: Joan Quigley, Astrologer to a First Lady, Is Dead at 87