May 17, 2002 10:38 AM

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was back in Washington, D.C., Thursday for the first time in six years to accept the Congressional Gold Medal, reports PEOPLE. Both she and her husband, Ronald Reagan, were honored with the medal — Congress’s highest tribute — for their service to the nation. “Ronald Reagan is one of the largest figures of our time,” President George W. Bush said at the ceremony, adding that at “every step of his amazing life Nancy Reagan was right by his side. As his optimism inspired us, her love and devotion strengthened him. And this amazing partnership helped change the world.” Wearing a pastel lime-green suit, Mrs. Reagan, 80, was accompanied by her longtime friends Merv Griffin and Bo Derek, as well as her son-in-law Dennis Revell, husband of the late Maureen Reagan. (The 91-year-old former president, who has Alzheimer’s disease, stopped making public appearances years ago.) “To see her win this, the most valuable award presented in America, is a thrill,” TV producer Griffin, 76, told PEOPLE. “I think to see her come back here is a revelation to all of us. All of her energy has come back, her eyes are shining. You know, the caretaker’s job is the worst job of all. So to see her back in this and everybody’s so thrilled to see her is what is wonderful.” As Mrs. Reagan herself told the assembled dignitaries: “It’s such an honor to be here. This is obviously a very special occasion for me and very memorable. Because it was in this room that Ronnie and I came after his first inaugural (in 1981). And it was in this room we were told the prisoners had been released and they were in Iranian airspace and everything was going to be all right. It was very exciting. I want to thank all of you for your expressions and what’s been said.”

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