Barbara Bush, Former First Lady and Bush Family Matriarch, Dies at 92.

The beloved figure passed away Tuesday, according to the Bush family.

Her’s was a life of contrast. Perhaps not in the traditional sense that we envision upon hearing the phrase, but it was. Mrs. Bush was a woman who rarely caused controversy but when she did, she hit it out of the park. She was not afraid to speak her mind though, unlike others in her position, seemed to know instinctively where it was appropriate to do so. Although her “claims to fame” rest largely with her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, and son, former President George W. Bush, Barbara Bush accomplished plenty all on her own.

A true lady is born.

Barbara Bush (née Pierce) in her graduation photo.

Born Barbara Pierce on June 8th, 1925 in New York City to Pauline and Marvin Pierce, she was destined from an early age to have a life long love of the written word. Her father worked for, and eventually became President of, the McCall Corporation; the publisher of two popular women’s magazines Redbook and McCall’s. The third of four children, Mrs. Bush would later recall gathering with her family to read in the evenings, a tradition she held dear to her heart.

At the age of 16, while on Christmas vacation with her family, she met her future husband at a dance. At the time, George Bush was a student at Philip’s Academy. Eighteen months later the couple became engaged. However, her age and war delayed the marriage. The couple married on January 6th, 1945, while George was on leave. The first nine months of her marriage were spent traveling around the eastern United States as her husband underwent various training programs.

Wife and mother.

Barbara and George H.W. Bush on their wedding day.

After the war ended, the couple moved to New Haven, CT so that George could attend Yale University. It was there that the couple welcomed their first child, George W. Bush.  The family relocated to Odessa, Texas where George became involved in the oil business. The family moved several times over the next few years. Meanwhile, in 1949, the couple welcomed their second child, daughter Pauline, known as Robin. In 1950, the family settled in Midland, Texas. In 1953, her third child and second son, Jeb, was born.

Shortly thereafter, Robin was diagnosed with leukemia, an almost certain death sentence at the time as treatment was not widely available or largely successful. Doctors advised the couple to take their daughter home and make her comfortable. Barbara refused to give up so easily. The family took Robin to New York where an uncle of George’s was a doctor. Despite only being given two weeks to live, Robin survived another seven months before dying in her mother’s arms. Barbara contributed the premature graying of her hair to her daughter’s illness as the toll on her was extreme. After Robin’s death, the family created the Bright Star Foundation, which raised awareness and money for leukemia research.

The family returned to Midland where their final three children, Neil, Marvin and Dorothy (Doro) were born. After Doro’s birth, the family moved to Houston.

Barbara with her husband and son, George W.

Political wife and alone.

From 1963 (when her husband entered the political arena) to the end of her life, it would be easy to assume that Barbara was not much more than a political side note to her husband and sons (her son, Jeb, was also Governor of Florida). However, this is a fool’s thought. While she indeed was perhaps not a public political powerhouse that we have grown accustomed to in recent years, she was no less influential. Nor was she idle. Some would assume her chosen role of raising her children as her husband rose though the ranks was old-fashioned and without merit. Yet that assumption would be a disservice to parents everywhere who understand just how hard being a full-time mother is. Barbara would often accompany her husband during various campaigns and took part in a variety of projects that interested her.

Still, even for this steadfast woman, there were pitfalls. After her husband became the Director of Central Intelligence (not to be confused with the Director of the CIA or the Director of National Intelligence, posts that were created after the Director of Central Intelligence post was dissolved), Barbara found herself isolated from her husband. He was not allowed to discuss most of his work with her and as such it lead to strain in the marriage. This, combined with her husband’s long hours away, led Barbara to a personal crisis. She began to believe that she had not accomplished nearly as much as her female counterparts and this through her into depression. She did not seek professional help for her depression though. Instead, she threw herself into a “political wife’s work” by making speeches and presentations about her experiences. The strategy worked.

Barbara with George during one of his campaigns.

Political Partner.

Barbara was a largely “traditional” political wife in the sense that she rarely broke away from her husband. However, in 1980, she did create a bit of a stir. Barbara, unlike most other Republican women in the Phyllis Schlafly era, stated she supported not only the Equal Rights Amendment but abortion rights as well. Later, she would clarify that although she personally was not for abortion, she did not believe that she, or anyone else, had the right to decide that for all women. Still, she was one of the first conservative, Republican pro-choice women on the national stage. She held largely the same opinion on homosexuality. She did not believe that such personal issues should be political platforms and that ones personal opinions should not decide policy. If her opinions differed from her husband however, she rarely contradicted him.

A champion for learning.

Aside from her championing children’s health, literacy was the passion that would hold Mrs. Bush throughout her life, especially after her son Neil was diagnosed with dyslexia. Beginning during her tenure as Second Lady, Mrs. Bush championed literacy programs. She even wrote a children’s book told from the point of view of her dog entitled, C. Fred’s Story. All of the proceeds were donated to charity. As First Lady, she founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.  She steadfastly believed that many of the hurtles facing the world could be overcome simply by people being educated.

First Lady.

While her tenure was short, combined with her work with literacy, Mrs. Bush made a substantial impact for White House Endowment Trust which focused on restoring the White House and preserving it. Mrs. Bush was a far more popular First Lady than her predecessor Nancy Reagan. She was even described by the White House staff as “the friendliest and most easy-going of the First Ladies”.  In 1989, she was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, an autoimmune disease which affects the thyroid.  However, it was reported shortly after that she was managing the disease well and continued to do so until her last days.

Barbara also created a few headaches for the Secret Service. She was never one to demand pomp and often wished to travel meagerly. Instead of a limo, she used a small town-car. She preferred to use trains and commercial airlines to travel. While the car request was approved, the agency fought back on the use of public trains and cars. Due to extensive delays caused by her using such transportation, she largely relented. The plane used for her official trips was named “Bright Star” in honor of the foundation inspired by her daughter, Robin.

Later Years.

Mrs. Bush, and her husband, found adjusting to private life difficult at first but quickly came around. Despite some apprehensions, she supported her son, the Governor of Texas, George when he ran for President. She did the same for her son Jeb when he made a bid for Governor of Florida.

She caused some controversy when in 2016 as Jeb ran for President when she said “There are other people out there that are very qualified and we’ve had enough Bushes”. Whatever she may have felt towards her younger son’s Presidential bid, she held nothing back in regards to President Trump who she criticized often. Even stating that women would have to be crazy to vote for him. 

A final dance for a one of a kind lady.

In her later years, Mrs. Bush suffered from COPD, chronic heart failure and worsening symptoms of her Graves’ Disease. However, her spirit was undeterred. She was once quoted as saying she didn’t fear death for herself or “my precious George.” “I know there is a great God, and I’m not worried.”

On April 15th, the Bush family announced that Barbara would no longer seek medical treatment for her ailments. Instead, she chose to go home and be surrounded by those she loved as her life came to a close. On April 17th, while surrounded by her family, Barbara Bush left this world. In doing so, she has left a hole that will not soon be filled of what a conservative, Republican, nay, a human being should be.

Her funeral is set for April 21st at St. Martin’s Episcopalian Church in Houston. She will then be buried at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.

 

 

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