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“One of the most important things women should take away from Laura Bush’s tenure is that she truly reflects that there are many different kinds of feminists. She has dispelled many of those old stereotypes,” she added.

“She is an excellent mother, dedicated to her husband and family, and she enjoys being married. Still, she can advocate for women’s rights. She would appear to be someone who feels that marriage and children have not hampered her ability to be a feminist.”

Mrs. Bush was not skittish about her role as traditional wife.

“She keeps me focused on what’s important,” Mr. Bush once said of his spouse.

The couple was introduced to each other by mutual friends at a backyard barbecue in 1977 and married three months later to the astonishment - and delight - of family and friends.

She gets kudos from her mother-in-law, too. Former first lady Barbara Bush has always said her son George is “madly in love” with his wife.

“Laura is a rock,” she said when the pair first headed to Washington in 2001.

Even the late Molly Ivins - a Texas columnist who was fond of calling Mr. Bush “Shrub” over the years - said Mrs. Bush “is just as nice as she can be.”

But there’s the glint of steel that is part of Mrs. Bush - maybe because she’s a Texan, maybe because she was a public school teacher or mother of two.

Her official legacy bristles with accomplishments. She has journeyed to Afghanistan three times, coordinating 30 public and private partnerships to support that country’s development.

She publicly has condemned terror campaigns in Burma and has promoted education for boys and girls in Africa and 40 other countries. Her stateside efforts to promote reading are legendary; she also has launched global efforts to counter malaria, AIDS, breast cancer and heart disease.

The state of the nation’s great public parks, historic sites and the protection of oceans and coastal regions also have come under her protection.

“With all her calm grace comes a fierce and practical determination. It’s a wonderful combination,” said John Bridgeland, chief executive officer of Civic Enterprises, a former assistant to Mr. Bush and the first director of the USA Freedom Corps.

“She has had an intense interest in civic engagement, disadvantaged young people, Afghan women and children. She has used her bully pulpit to speak about national service, about the problem of malaria,” Mr. Bridgeland said.

“The numbers of people who have done volunteer work has risen from 59.8 million to 65.4 million in recent years, according to the Census Bureau,” he added. “And I am convinced that it is due in part to the first lady and President Bush.”