The Woman Who Tore down the Wall

History books will never tell you that Nellie Clyde Wilson ended the Cold War. But history often overlooks its most important people. Nellie was a little wisp of a woman, born the youngest of seven kids in a small town on the road to nowhere. Despite her strict Presbyterian upbringing, she fell head over heels in love with a dashing Irish Catholic named Jack. It wasn’t long after the wedding that Jack began to show his true colors. Brought up in a family of hard drinkers, Jack had a taste for whiskey. Jobs were hard to come by, and it didn’t help that Jack’s drunkenness got him repeat- edly fired. Their family was forced to move at least ten times in fourteen years. Nellie eked out a meager living by taking in sewing and laundry, and somehow managed to make the meals stretch for Jack and their two boys. Most months she barely scraped together the rent money. Yet she never lost her sense of humor or optimism. Her youngest boy often recalled that she was the most positive woman in his life.Mostly, her boys observed the way she loved Jesus. They went with her to the jailhouse, bringing hot food to prison- ers. They watched her subsist on crackers because she had taken her meal next door to a sick neighbor. When Jack complained about her tithing to the church, Nellie good- naturedly replied that God would make their ninety percent twice as big if he got his tenth.


Nellie was a bit player in small-town America. You might never have known who she was if it hadn’t been for her sons. They flourished under her unbounded optimism and grew strong observing her heroic faith. She steeled them with dis- cipline and lavished them with love. Every night she read her boys stories about good and evil. Her youngest son’s favorite was about a knight in shining armor who conquered an evil empire. From Nellie, this little boy learned how to dream big and overcome impossible odds. She nurtured his love for acting and told him that he could change the world. Most of all, she taught him to love God.

The world remembers this wisp of a woman by her mar- ried name: Nellie (Nelle) Clyde Wilson Reagan. The son she nicknamed Dutch grew up to live out his mother’s bedtime story, becoming the knight in shining armor who triumphed over an evil empire. President Ronald Reagan often said that his mother was the most influential person in his life.

Could it be that this diminutive washerwoman from a small town in Illinois was the one who tore down the Berlin Wall and set millions free from Communist tyranny because of a dream that she instilled in her son?

As a new year opens its blank pages for you to write yet another chapter in your life story, you might want to take heart from something that Nellie wrote in her well-worn Bible:

You can be too big for God to use, but you can never be too small.