Former first lady Barbara Bush dies at 92

Published 7:32 pm Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Texas Tribune/ By Ross Ramsey

Barbara Pierce Bush, matriarch of an American political dynasty that has produced presidents, governors and other high officials, has died in Houston. She was 92.

Bush was an outspoken public figure, often putting into words the thoughts that the elected men in her family were too cautious to utter. She did practically everything in politics short of running for office herself, organizing campaigns and “women’s groups” in the parlance of the day, riding herd on political friendships and organizations critical to electing her husband, George H.W. Bush, to the U.S. House, the vice presidency and ultimately, to the presidency itself. Her oldest son, George W. Bush, was the 43rd president after twice winning election as governor of Texas. His younger brother, Jeb Bush, was governor of Florida and, later, an unsuccessful candidate for president. And one of her grandsons, George. P. Bush, is currently the land commissioner of Texas.

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Barbara Bush was the second American who was both the wife and mother of presidents; the other was Abigail Adams. She and George Bush, married 73 years ago in January 1945, had the longest-lasting marriage of any first couple. Both were from political families. Her grandfather, James Robinson, was on Ohio’s first Supreme Court, according to Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes.” Her father, Marvin Pierce, was a distant descendant of President Franklin Pierce. George H.W. Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. senator from Connecticut.

She was a strong advocate for literacy programs — the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy was started while she was first lady — and authored several books: “Barbara Bush: a Memoir”; “Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush”; and “Reflections: Life After the White House.” At the Republican National Convention in 1988, she made a presidential nominating speech for her husband, becoming the first spouse to take on what quickly became a standard feature of national political conventions.

After leaving the White House, the Bushes moved to Houston and established a presidential library in College Station.

Bush’s decline in health was announced on Sunday in a statement from her husband’s office: “Following a recent series of hospitalizations, and after consulting her family and doctors, Mrs. Bush, now age 92, has decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care. It will not surprise those who know her that Barbara Bush has been a rock in the face of her failing health, worrying not for herself — thanks to her abiding faith — but for others. She is surrounded by a family she adores, and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving.”

Jenna Bush Hager, her granddaughter, added a personal note the next day on NBC’s Today show.

“We are grateful for her,” Hager said. “She is the best grandma anybody could’ve ever had — or have. Barbara and I talked to her last night, she’s in great spirits and she’s a fighter. She’s an enforcer. She reminded me not to believe everything you read. We’re grateful for her, for everybody’s prayers and thoughts, and just know the world is better because she’s in it.”

Bush had six children, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Her daughter Robin died at age three from leukemia, a family tragedy that George W. Bush has said made him close to and protective of his mother and that Barbara Bush wrote turned her hair prematurely white. She was 28 years old at the time.

“Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions,” George W. Bush said in a Tuesday evening statement. “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.”

George P. Bush said on Twitter that his grandmother’s “entire life was focused on others. For my grandfather, she was his top adviser and confidante. For her family, she was a steady, loving and guiding hand.  And for her country, she was an inspiration and an example for all.”

President Donald Trump offered his condolences Tuesday evening. “As a wife, mother, grandmother, military spouse, and former First Lady, Mrs. Bush was an advocate of the American Family,” a statement from Trump’s office read. “She will be long remembered for her strong devotion to country and family, both of which she served unfailingly well.”

Funeral plans were not immediately announced.