America Remembers Barbara Bush
Former U.S. first lady Barbara Bush has died at 92.
A family statement said she died Tuesday evening with her family beside her.
“My dear mother has passed on at age 92,” former President George W. Bush said in a statement. “Laura, Barbara, Jenna, and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was. Barbara Bush was a fabulous first lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions. To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I’m a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother. Our family will miss her dearly, and we thank you all for your prayers and good wishes.”
The Bush family gave few details on her health, but said the former first lady suffered in recent years from congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She declined to seek further medical treatment as her condition worsened in recent days.
Barbara Pierce Bush was born June 8, 1925, in Rye, New York. Her father was the publisher of McCall’s and Redbook magazines. Her mother, Pauline Pierce, was the daughter of an Ohio Supreme Court justice and was dedicated to conservation efforts as a chairwoman of the Garden Club of America.
Marriage, family and literacy
Barbara Pierce married George Herbert Walker Bush on Jan. 6, 1945. They had six children and have been married longer than any presidential couple in U.S. history. George H.W. Bush was the country’s 41st president from 1989 to 1993.
Barbara Bush was one of only two first ladies in history who was also the mother of a president — George W. Bush, the country’s 43rd commander in chief. The other first lady was Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, the nation’s second president, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president.
While in the public eye, Barbara Bush was always a fierce advocate of her husband and children. As recently as 2016, she campaigned for her son Jeb, the former governor of Florida who was seeking the presidency of the United States.
Along with her memoirs, she was the author of “C. Fred’s Story” and “Millie’s Book,” based on the lives of her dogs.
Pearls and white hair
Barbara Bush was known for her white hair and triple-strand false pearl necklace.
Her brown hair began to gray in the 1950s, while her 3-year-old daughter Pauline, known to her family as Robin, underwent treatment for leukemia and eventually died in October 1953. Barbara Bush later said dyed hair didn’t look good on her and credited the eventual all-white color to the public’s perception of her as “everybody’s grandmother.”
Her pearls sparked a national fashion trend when she wore them to her husband’s inauguration in 1989. The pearls became synonymous with her. Barbara Bush later said she selected them to hide the wrinkles in her neck. The candid admission only bolstered her common sense and down-to-earth public image.
Barbara Bush was also known for her quick temper and sharp tongue.
She kept her sarcasm under wraps in public, though one noted slip came in 1984 when her husband was running for re-election as vice president with President Ronald Reagan.
The Democratic challengers, Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, questioned whether wealthy people such as the Bushes could relate to average Americans.
An irritated Barbara Bush told a reporter that Ferraro was a “$4 million — I can’t say it — but it rhymes with rich.” Bush later said she meant “witch” and apologized. Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate representing a major U.S. political party, accepted the apology. Ferraro died in 2011.
Barbara Bush also came under intense criticism for her remarks after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The Bushes had toured relocation centers in Texas, where a number of victims had relocated. After the visit, the former first lady remarked that many of the poor people she had seen were faring better than before the storm hit.
“What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas,” she said in a radio interview. “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway,” she said, “so, this is working very well for them.”
As first lady, Barbara Bush made literacy her main focus and became involved in a number of reading organizations. She established the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy decades ago, promoting reading skills across America, particularly for young children.
In a statement from the White House, President Donald J. Trump and first lady Melania Trump praised Barbara Bush’s dedication to literacy.
“As a wife, mother, grandmother, military spouse, and former First Lady, Mrs. Bush was an advocate of the American family. Amongst her greatest achievements was recognizing the importance of literacy as a fundamental family value that requires nurturing and protection. She will be long remembered for her strong devotion to country and family, both of which she served unfailingly well.”