- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

She has eyes as blue as bluebonnets - and enough grace, sincerity and composure to fill up the entire state of Texas.

And don’t forget the kindness, civility and inner mettle.

First lady Laura Bush leaves a legacy of graciousness for America to ponder as she trades the White House for the Lone Star state. It’s been close to 3,000 days since Mrs. Bush arrived in Washington to offer a consistent, comforting presence as the nation faced astonishing, unprecedented challenges.

It was Mrs. Bush, of steady gaze and calm demeanor, who told Americans to take solace in their families and communities just days after the Sept. 11 attacks. That public service message revealed a subtle but unmistakable steel in her, a certain protectiveness.

And it was the first lady who has traveled to 75 countries since then, bringing her own brand of global diplomacy to the Middle East and Africa in particular. Mrs. Bush also has drawn renewed and often reinvented attention to literacy, women’s health issues, environmental causes, community heritage and the woes of forgotten children.

She is the only first lady to deliver the president’s weekly radio address, calling attention to the oppression of women suffering under the Taliban. And she has a memoir coming out as well, tastefully scheduled to be published a year after she leaves public life.

President Bush and I have had such a special privilege of being able to represent the people of the United States. We’ll return to Texas with cherished memories of our friends, our staff, and our time at the White House,” Mrs. Bush said.

The events, the people, are “extraordinary.”

And that’s it for goodbyes, essentially. No grand curtain calls, no giant parties, toastmasters or dramatic speeches on some Jumbotron somewhere.

“Laura Bush did it right. Hard-working, patient, always gracious. And nice. History will give her very high marks,” said talk-show host Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, who accompanied Mrs. Bush on a tour of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

“I am a big fan of first ladies. They work nonstop without pay, with a sense of purpose. They’re on the road, hustling for us,” she continued. “I’ve been in the public eye. I don’t mind getting attacked in the press. But I can’t imagine how hard it could be if your husband is getting whacked every day for eight years.”

Mrs. Bush, 62, did just fine, if opinion polls are any gauge.

She enjoyed some of the highest public approval on record for a first lady, according to Gallup. Mrs. Bush’s favorability rating consistently ranged from 74 percent to 82 percent over the years, even as Mr. Bush faced a daily gantlet of critical press and contentious punditry.

“When Laura Bush entered the White House as first lady, she really entered as just that: a lady. She demonstrated that it was culturally possible to be a lady, to have a cause and to be professional about it,” said Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women’s Forum.

“She was dedicated to children’s literacy and international women’s rights - advocating for early breast cancer detection in Muslim countries where women must get permission from their husband to even get a mammogram. Laura Bush’s outreach was done in such a genteel way that it had significant impact. It was classy, it was elegant,” Mrs. Bernard continued.

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