''I've never seen a First Lady eat before,'' exclaimed a Jonesboro, Ark., homemaker gawking over a playground fence at Nancy Reagan, who, in her electric-blue suit and perfect coif, was eating a brown bag lunch with local teen-agers.
Obtuse as the observation may seem, this kind of curiosity and awe over the First Lady is key to the kind of public relations used in Mrs. Reagan's anti-drug campaign which took her this week to Montgomery, Ala.; Jackson, Miss.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Jonesboro.
The encounter with Mrs. Reagan is likely to burn for a long while in the memories of the Arkansas homemaker and hundreds of others who come in contact with the heady fringe of world power as the First Lady sweeps into town with her traffic-stopping entourage of no-nonsense Secret Service guards, serious staff, and trail of dogged news media.
By mere association, this air of importance is lent to the programs Mrs. Reagan visits.
''This makes us look important,'' beams Martha Lott, a high school senior from West Point, Miss., who, along with nine other members of DREAM (Drug Research and Education Association of Mississippi), chatted with Mrs. Reagan for a half hour before blazing television lights and cameras at the governor's mansion in Jackson. ''It gave us an opportunity to get a lot of attention for our group. We'll take it back home and just the fact we talked to the First Lady , people will listen to us.''
A slightly more cynical approach was taken at Little Rock Central High School , where black students, picketing Mrs. Reagan's arrival, protested social program cuts and tuition tax credits for private schools.
''I think it shows she cares. She didn't have to come all the way down here, '' said one Central High senior, a long-haired girl with perfect makeup. But, she added, ''Just because the First Lady says to stop wouldn't make me quit (using drugs) . . . she hasn't ever been into drugs. How does she know what she's talking about?''