Living life for family and country
Former first lady Barbara Bush, who died Tuesday at age 92, was, inarguably, an American icon.
Along with Abigail Adams, she is one of only two women who could say they were wife of one president and mother to another.
This status, along with being mother to another governor and cousin to a third president, could make her the U.S. equivalent of royalty, but it was Bush’s down-to-earth demeanor that made her enormously popular with the American people.
While coming from a privileged background, she made headlines at the inaugural ball of her husband, George H.W. Bush, when she famously eschewed the trappings of the role and opted to wear a string of fake pearls and a pair of $29 shoes with her gown.
It was a taste of the straightforward attitude she would display during her tenure, becoming known for her candidness and quick wit.
“Avoid this crowd like the plague,” she once told incoming first lady Hillary Clinton when introducing her to the White House press corps. “And if they quote you, make damn sure they heard you.”
Bush’s love of her husband, whom she met in high school, remained immense during the couple’s 73 years of marriage. Staff of the couple said the former president held hands with her for the entirety of the last day before her death.
Fiercely protective of her husband and children, Bush’s commitment to family was legendary and influenced her humanitarian work as first lady.
Having lost her three-year-old daughter Robin to leukemia in 1953, Bush focused her efforts on the well-being and care of children.
And it was in these efforts that she memorably helped to erase the stigma of those living with HIV/AIDS during the early days of the epidemic’s impact on the country.
In 1989, Bush visited a Washington, D.C. hospice where several infants, who had been abandoned after being born with the virus, were being treated.
At the time, the public was in fear of the virus, with many people wrongly assuming that it could be spread simply through touching someone who had contracted it.
Bush made it a point, in front of gathered news cameras, to hold each of the infants of the facility and, in doing so, she not only provided affection to the them, but helped to change the public perception of the epidemic.
Her chief cause as first lady was focused on increasing literacy, and her humanitarian work took on a global reach, as she and her husband regularly worked on helped raise funds for victims of natural disasters, often partnering with their one-time political rivals, the Clintons, forming a friendship in their post-White House years centered around these relief efforts.
“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal,” Bush once said. “You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”
We extend our condolences to the Bush family and hope that Americans will remember and celebrate the life of this remarkable woman.