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Former First Lady Barbara Bush Passes

 

April 27, 2018

First Lady Barbara Bush

One of the nation's most loved First Ladies of the White House, Barbara Bush died Aril 17, 2018 at the age of 92.

According to a statement released by the Office of President George H.W. Bush, Mrs. Bush elected to receive "comfort care" over additional medical treatment after a series of hospitalizations some of which related to congestive heart failure.

"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," it said.

"My dear mother has passed on at age 92. 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," said President George Bush in a statement.

President Trump ordered that U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff at the White House, federal buildings, U.S. embassies and military posts in Barbara Bush's honor.

Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama said they were grateful for her generosity to them and said the way she lived her life was a testament to public service as an important and noble calling, that she was an example of humility and decency.

Bush will go down in history as one of just two women to be both the wife of a U.S. president and also the mother of one. She was as famous for her undyed hair and fake pearls as she was for her self-deprecating humor, and she made it clear - from the moment she moved into the White House - that she was going to be a different kind of first lady from her very glamorous predecessor, Nancy Reagan.

"Barbara Bush certainly wasn't afraid to laugh at herself," said first lady biographer Myra Gutin. "She worked very hard to show that she was just a real person."

When she was about to become first lady, she quipped, "My mail tells me that a lot of fat, white-haired, wrinkled ladies are tickled pink."

"That's vintage Barbara Bush," says Gutin.

Her down-to-earth image was all the more remarkable for someone who grew up in a suburb of Manhattan as part of the aristocracy and married aristocracy as well. The daughter of a magazine publisher and granddaughter of a state supreme court justice, Barbara Pierce was home from boarding school at a holiday dance when she met George Herbert Walker Bush - the son of a U.S. senator from a prominent Yankee family.

She described falling head over heels in her memoir. "Sweet sixteen and never been kissed, has been written about me and it was true," she quipped. "I floated into my room and kept the poor girl I was rooming with awake all night, while I made her listen to how Poppy Bush was the greatest living human on the face of the earth."

They got engaged just before Bush shipped off to war. When he returned, she dropped out of Smith College to become Mrs. George Bush.

She would then make some 30 moves following her husband, through naval training and to Yale University, where she delivered George W. Bush - the first of their six children - and then to Texas, where Bush would start his career in the oil business.

"Barbara Bush spent her 20s and 30s in the traditional role of wife and mother," recalled former neighbor Charlie Younger years later. "She was the June Cleaver prototype. She would dress in a dress, being the perfect mom, the perfect wife, cooking, cleaning - all the things that full-time, stay-at-home moms did back then."

When her husband dived into politics, Barbara Bush dutifully took on the role of political wife, campaigning for him. But longtime family friend Rob Mossbacher Jr. said her supportiveness should not be mistaken for submissiveness.

Indeed, Barbara Bush - known as the "Silver Fox" - could be as tough as she could be charming. Her grandkids named her "The Enforcer." But the rough-and-tumble of politics roiled her at times - especially, as she herself said, attacks aimed at her son, George W. Bush.

"Sometimes I just wanna give people a piece of my mind," she once quipped. "But of course, as George would say, 'Wouldn't be prudent!' "

When her second son, Jeb Bush, first considered running for president as had his father and brother, Barbara Bush demurred: "We've had enough Bushes," she said. But in 2015, when he jumped in, she changed her tune, and at 90 years old, she hit the campaign trail to try to elect a third President Bush.

True to her character, Bush couldn't hold back when she was asked by CNN about Jeb Bush's then-bitter rival, Donald Trump, who had called her son "dumb as a rock."

"I'm sick of him," she said. "I don't understand why people are for him."

"Barbara Bush understood the political version of the Hippocratic oath, 'First do no harm,' " said McGill University history professor Gill Troy. "Mamie Eisenhower always said, 'Ike runs the country and I make the lamb chops.' And Barbara Bush definitely embraced that."

Bush also tried to avoid making waves in selecting her pet cause of literacy. She tirelessly promoted literacy as a way to help solve everything from teen pregnancy and inner-city violence to AIDS.

"If every man, woman and child in America could read, write and comprehend, we could find easier answers to so many of our other social problems," she said.

Bush was also a best-selling author, beloved for the books she wrote in the voice of her dog Millie.

Former presidents and first ladies, including Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as current first lady Melania Trump, join George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Laura Bush at the funeral ceremony for the late first lady Barbara Bush on April 21, 2018.

But her role as first lady, wife and mother actually sparked something of a backlash, when she was chosen to speak at Wellesley College commencement in 1990. Some students protested the choice, saying that a woman most famous for her husband's career wasn't the ideal role model.

But true to form, Bush took no prisoners, and she told her audience of graduates that family should trump career.

"At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal," she said. "You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent."

Bush's personal life included some challenges, including the death of a 3-year-old daughter from leukemia and, years later, a bout of depression that left her feeling "like driving into a tree."

But all in all, Barbara Bush considered herself blessed, especially, as she often said, for whom she married.

"George Bush gave me the greatest life ever any living human being could have ever had, truthfully," she said.

 

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