Barbara Bush brought plainspoken, grandmotherly style to D.C. [photos]

Barbara Bush brought plainspoken, grandmotherly style to D.C. [photos]

April 19th, 2018 by Associated Press in Breaking News

Former first lady Barbara Bush was guest speaker in 2002 at a fundraiser for Boyd Buchanon School held at The Chattanoogan.

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Barbara Bush through the years

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HOUSTON — Barbara Bush didn't hesitate to tell people that her trademark pearl necklaces were fake. Americans liked that everything else about the snowy-haired first lady was real.

The wife of the nation's 41st president and mother of the 43rd brought a plainspoken, grandmotherly style to buttoned-down Washington, displaying an utter lack of vanity about her white hair and wrinkles.

In her words

Here are some quotes from the 1994 autobiography, "Barbara Bush: A Memoir." Barbara Bush, the wife of former President George H.W. Bush, died on Tuesday at age 92.

› On her first date with Bush, in 1941:
"Poppy (Bush's nickname) told me later that he had begged his mother to let him use the Oldsmobile that night because it had a radio and their other car did not. He was so afraid we would sit in stony silence and have nothing to say to each other. For years he has teased me that there was no silence that night and I haven't stopped talking since. All I know is that I liked him a lot."

› On the death of their 3-year-old daughter, Robin, in 1953:
"Eventually the medicine that was controlling the leukemia caused other terrible problems. We called George, and by the time he got there after flying all night, our baby was in a coma. Her death was very peaceful. One minute she was there, and the next she was gone. I truly felt her soul go out of that beautiful little body. For one last time I combed her hair, and we held our precious little girl. I never felt the presence of God more strongly than at that moment."

› On being a politician's wife:
"A question I'm asked all the time: Did anyone tell you what to do, or give you any guidelines, when your husband was in government? The answer is no. Certainly I was given advice on protocol, and occasionally on what to wear or not to wear, but, for the most part, I just depended on the manners my mother taught me."

› On a visit to an AIDS care group shortly after becoming first lady:
"It was a wrenching visit. Besides having trouble finding housing and medical care, they all had personal problems. I especially remember a young man who told us that he had been asked to leave his church studies when it was discovered he had AIDS. His parents also had disowned him, and he said he longed to be hugged again by his mother. A poor substitute, I hugged that darling young man and did it again in front of the cameras. But what he really needed was family."

› On meetings with reporters:
"For the most part, I liked the reporters and found the lunches stimulating and fun. But I never got off scot-free. I always made news even though I swore I wouldn't. I must say, however, I found it was interesting that the fact George and I agreed on 99 percent of the issues never made the news!"

› On life in the White House:
"The butlers loved trying to make me guess whose china I was using. Imaging being served a meal on dishes that Abraham Lincoln ate from!"

› On her dog Millie:
"Millie was a perfect mom. She knew exactly how long she should sleep with them, and after about a month she moved back in with us. I have wondered so when I read about parents abusing their children: If a dog's natural instincts are to protect her young, why, oh, why wouldn't we humans do the same?"

› On promoting her best-seller, "Millie's Book":
"One day I taped all three network Morning Shows: the 'Today' show with Deborah Norville; 'Good Morning America' with Joan Lunden; and 'The CBS Morning Show' with Paula Zahn. I wrote in my diary: 'All three ladies are beautiful blondes and I began to mix them up in my mind. They all three seem chic, stylish, bright and very nice. And they all three asked the same questions.'"

› On her husband's loss to Bill Clinton in 1992:
"Why did we lose? George Bush says it was because he didn't communicate as well as his predecessor or successor. I just don't believe that. I think we lost because people really wanted a change. We had had 12 years of a Republican presidency. The Cold War was over, and now it was time to turn our attention toward the home front and the many problems that were and are facing our country. People were worried about jobs and the economy. There was an impression that George was more interested in foreign affairs and did not have a domestic program, which was not true. He had accomplished so much, and still had so much he wanted to do. But that was the impression."

"What you see with me is what you get. I'm not running for president — George Bush is," she said at the 1988 Republican National Convention, where her husband, then vice president, was nominated to succeed Ronald Reagan.

Mrs. Bush died Tuesday, according to a statement from family spokesman Jim McGrath. She was 92.

A funeral is planned Saturday at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, which Mrs. Bush and her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, regularly attended. Mrs. Bush will lie in repose Friday at the church for members of the public who want to pay respects. Saturday's service will be by invitation only, according to the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation.

The Bushes, who were married on Jan. 6, 1945, had the longest marriage of any presidential couple in American history. And Mrs. Bush was one of only two first ladies who had a child who was elected president. The other was Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams and mother of John Quincy Adams.

"I had the best job in America," she wrote in a 1994 memoir describing her time in the White House. "Every single day was interesting, rewarding, and sometimes just plain fun."

The publisher's daughter and oilman's wife could be caustic in private, but her public image was that of a self-sacrificing, supportive spouse who referred to her husband as her "hero."

In the White House, "you need a friend, someone who loves you, who's going to say, 'You are great,'" Mrs. Bush said in a 1992 television interview.

Her uncoiffed, matronly appearance often provoked jokes that she looked more like the boyish president's mother than his wife. Late-night comedians quipped that her bright white hair and pale features also imparted an uncanny resemblance to George Washington.

Eight years after leaving the nation's capital, Mrs. Bush stood with her husband as their son George W. was sworn in as president. They returned four years later when he won a second term. Unlike Mrs. Bush, Abigail Adams did not live to see her son's inauguration. She died in 1818, six years before John Quincy Adams was elected.

Mrs. Bush insisted she did not try to influence her husband's politics.

"I don't fool around with his office," she said, "and he doesn't fool around with my household."

In 1984, her quick wit got her into trouble when she was quoted as referring to Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic vice presidential nominee at the time, as "that $4 million — I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich."

"It was dumb of me. I shouldn't have said it," Mrs. Bush acknowledged in 1988. "It was not attractive, and I've been very shamed. I apologized to Mrs. Ferraro, and I would apologize again."

Daughter-in-law Laura Bush, another first lady, said Mrs. Bush was "ferociously tart-tongued" from the start.

"She's never shied away from saying what she thinks. She's managed to insult nearly all of my friends with one or another perfectly timed acerbic comment," Laura Bush said in her 2010 book, "Spoken from the Heart."

In her 1994 autobiography, "Barbara Bush: A Memoir," she said she did her best to keep her opinions from the public while her husband was in office. But she revealed that she disagreed with him on two issues: She supported legal abortion and opposed the sale of assault weapons.

"I honestly felt, and still feel, the elected person's opinion is the one the public has the right to know," Mrs. Bush wrote.

She also disclosed a bout with depression in the mid-1970s, saying she sometimes feared she would deliberately crash her car. She blamed hormonal changes and stress.

"Night after night, George held me weeping in his arms while I tried to explain my feelings," she wrote. "I almost wonder why he didn't leave me."

She said she snapped out of it in a few months.

Mrs. Bush raised five children: George W., Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Dorothy. A sixth child, 3-year-old daughter Robin, died of leukemia in 1953.

In a speech in 1985, she recalled the stress of raising a family while married to a man whose ambitions carried him from the Texas oil fields to Congress and then into influential political positions that included ambassador to the United Nations, GOP chairman and CIA director.

"This was a period, for me, of long days and short years," she said, "of diapers, runny noses, earaches, more Little League games than you could believe possible, tonsils and those unscheduled races to the hospital emergency room, Sunday school and church, of hours of urging homework or short chubby arms around your neck and sticky kisses."

Along the way, she said, there were also "bumpy moments — not many, but a few — of feeling that I'd never, ever be able to have fun again and coping with the feeling that George Bush, in his excitement of starting a small company and traveling around the world, was having a lot of fun."

In 2003, she wrote a follow-up memoir, "Reflections: Life After the White House."

"I made no apologies for the fact that I still live a life of ease," she wrote. "There is a difference between ease and leisure. I live the former and not the latter."

Along with her memoirs, she wrote "C. Fred's Story" and "Millie's Book," based on the lives of her dogs. Proceeds from the books benefited adult and family literacy programs. Laura Bush, a former teacher with a master's degree in library science, continued her mother-in-law's literacy campaign in the White House.

The 43rd president was not the only Bush son to seek office in the 1990s. In 1994, when George W. was elected governor of Texas, son Jeb narrowly lost to incumbent Lawton Chiles in Florida. Four years later, Jeb was victorious in his second try in Florida.

"This is a testament to what wonderful parents they are," George W. Bush said as Jeb Bush was sworn into office. Jeb won a second term in 2002, and then made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Sons Marvin and Neil both became businessmen. Neil achieved some notoriety in the 1980s as a director of a savings and loan that crashed. Daughter Dorothy, or Doro, has preferred to stay out of the spotlight. She married lobbyist Robert Koch, a Democrat, in 1992.

In a collection of letters published in 1999, George H.W. Bush included a note he gave to his wife in early 1994.

"You have given me joy that few men know," he wrote. "You have made our boys into men by bawling them out and then, right away, by loving them. You have helped Doro to be the sweetest, greatest daughter in the whole wide world. I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara's husband."

Mrs. Bush was born Barbara Pierce in Rye, N.Y. Her father was the publisher of McCall's and Redbook magazines. After attending Smith College for two years, she married young naval aviator George Herbert Walker Bush. She was 19.

After World War II, the Bushes moved to the Texas oil patch to seek their fortune and raise a family. It was there that Bush began his political career, representing Houston for two terms in Congress in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In all, the Bushes made more than two dozen moves that circled half the globe before landing at the White House in 1989. During the next four years, opinion polls often gave her approval ratings that exceeded her husband's.

The couple's final move, after Bush lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, was to Houston, where they built what she termed their "dream house" in an affluent neighborhood. The Bush family also had an oceanfront summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

After retiring to Houston, the Bushes helped raise funds for charities and appeared frequently at events such as Houston Astros baseball games. Public schools in the Houston area are named for both of them.

In 1990, Barbara Bush gave the commencement address at all-women Wellesley College, though some had protested her selection because she was prominent only through the achievements of her husband. Her speech that day was rated by a survey of scholars in 1999 as one of the top 100 speeches of the century.

"Cherish your human connections," she told graduates. "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. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent."


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