- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Barbara Bush, the popular matriarch of the Bush family dynasty famous for her unpretentious style and elegant halo of white hair, died Tuesday at the age of 92.

Her death was confirmed by the office of her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, and came just two days after a family spokesman said she would not seek further medical treatment for congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Bush spokesman Jim McGrath told reporters the former president “is broken-hearted to lose his beloved Barbara, his wife of 73 years. He held her hand all day today and was at her side when she left this good earth.”

Dubbed “the silver fox” for her snowy hair and sharp insights, Mrs. Bush joined Abigail Adams as the only two women to be wife to one U.S. president and mother to another.

The mother of six and grandmother of 14, Mrs. Bush presided over a powerful Republican political family that has so far produced two presidents, a Florida governor and Texas land commissioner.

The Bushes were married 73 years, making them longest-married couple in American presidential history.

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

The White House issued a statement “celebrating the life of Barbara Bush,” which President Trump retweeted, commending her achievements in advancing literacy and “her strong devotion to country and family, both of which she served unfailingly well.”

Her son, former President George W. Bush, described her as a “fabulous First Lady.”

“My dear mother has passed on at age 92,” he tweeted. “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.”

Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2012, called Mrs. Bush “the great First Lady of our times.”

“Barbara raised a family of service & character, stood by her beloved husband in the best & worst of times, and spoke her convictions with courage & passion,” Mr. Romney tweeted. “Ann and I will profoundly miss her friendship, her compassion, & the twinkle of her eye.”

Former President Bill Clinton called Mrs. Bush “a remarkable woman.”

“She had grit & grace, brains & beauty,” Mr. Clinton tweeted. “She was fierce & feisty in support of her family & friends, her country & her causes. She showed us what an honest, vibrant, full life looks like. Hillary and I mourn her passing and bless her memory.”

Through a spokesman, former President Jimmy Carter praised Mrs. Bush‘s “warmth, generosity and keen wit.”

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama completed the praise from every living president, saying in a statement that Mrs. Bush “was the rock of a family dedicated to public service.”

“We’ll always be grateful to Mrs. Bush for the generosity she showed to us throughout our time in the White House, but we’re even more grateful for the way she lived her life — as a testament to the fact that public service is an important and noble calling; as an example of the humility and decency that reflects the very best of the American spirit,” the Obamas said. “She’ll be remembered for passing those American values on to her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren — and to the countless citizens whom she and George inspired to become ‘points of light’ in service to others.”

Mr. Trump ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff on all public buildings, military posts and embassies until sunset Saturday, the day of her interment.

According to the Bush family, the funeral will be 11 a.m. Saturday at the family’s longtime parish, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. She will be buried at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.

‘Tough as nails’

Barbara Ann Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, said she and Abigail Adams had something else in common: They were both “tough as nails.”

“They had to be tough to be first ladies,” Ms. Perry said. “And then to produce another president is remarkable. To foster two political dynasties, two presidential dynasties, is pretty amazing as well.”

Son Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, ran for the GOP presidential nod in 2016. Sons Marvin and Neil become businessmen, and daughter Dorothy Bush Koch serves as co-chair along with her brother Jeb of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

Barbara Pierce Bush was born on June 8, 1925, in Queens, New York, and raised in the suburban town of Rye, New York. Parents Marvin and Pauline Pierce had three more children; Mrs. Bush is survived by her brother Scott.

The Pierce family was affluent — Mr. Pierce became president of McCall Corp., which published the popular ladies’ magazines, Redbook and McCall’s — and Mrs. Bush grew up attending prestigious schools.

In 1941, Mrs. Bush attended a Christmas party in Connecticut where she met George Bush, who was attending Phillips Academy. The couple got engaged before he left for duty as a Navy pilot, and she attended Smith College in 1943-44. Mr. Bush was shot down in the Pacific in 1944, and when he returned home on leave, he married his 19-year-old sweetheart on Jan. 6, 1945.

The Bushes moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where their first son and future president, George Walker Bush, was born.

A move to Texas and five more children followed — Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Dorothy.

Daughter Robin’s death at age 3 from leukemia was forever a sorrowful part of their lives. “Because of Robin,” Mrs. Bush said, “George and I love every living human more.”

During their years in Texas, Mrs. Bush lived the life of a busy wife and mother, organizing more than two dozen household moves due to her husband’s corporate and political career.

She spent time in Washington and New York when Mr. Bush was congressman, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and director of Central Intelligence Agency, and in China when he served as U.S. liaison to China.

She served as second lady from 1981 to 1989, and as first lady from 1989 to 1993.

In 1984, she wrote “C. Fred’s Story: A Dog’s Life,” to explain life from the viewpoint of a family dog. She followed that tome in 1990 with the popular “Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush,” about life in the White House by the Bushes’ beloved family springer spaniel.

Literacy advocacy

Her special cause, however, was promotion of reading and literacy.

A lifelong book-and-magazine lover who was sensitized to reading challenges with son Neil’s dyslexia, Mrs. Bush used her time in the White House to advocate that every man, woman and child should be able to comprehend the written word.

She held leadership roles with Reading is Fundamental and a host of other literacy organizations. In 1989, she formed the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy to encourage parents to read outloud to their children, and participated in a national radio program, called “Mrs. Bush’s Story Time,” to drive home that message.

Mrs. Bush was also active on health issues, such as cancer research and organ donation, and social issues like volunteerism, hunger, civil rights, hospice care, AIDS, child abuse and adoption.

She was awarded an honorary degree from Smith College as well as several other colleges and universities.

Mrs. Bush, whose hair turned white prematurely, conveyed a message about aging gracefully by refusing to dye her hair.

“She let herself be natural,” said Ms. Perry, adding, “I think people really appreciated her being herself.”

In 1989, when Mrs. Bush was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, she publicly talked about coping with the thyroid disorder. She was also treated for ulcers and had open-heart surgery to replace an aortic valve.

After their White House years, Mr. and Mrs. Bush continued civic and charitable work. They occasionally participated in peace-making events associated with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han Moon, founders of The Washington Times.

In 1995, for instance, Mrs. Bush participated in a bridge ceremony held by Women’s Federation for World Peace, in which she embraced Motoko Sugiyama of Japan as part of a symbolic reconciliation between World War II enemies.

In recent years, Mrs. Bush and Mr. Bush lived in Houston and spent summers at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Mrs. Bush wrote two autobiographies — 1994’s “Barbara Bush: A Memoir” and 2003’s “Reflections: After the White House.”

She never lost her passion to end illiteracy. When the movie “Precious” came out in 2009, Mrs. Bush wrote an opinion article for Newsweek magazine, urging people to see it.

The hopelessness of the illiterate and abused young woman at the center for the movie plot may seem overwhelming, but “what saves her from a life of despair is a teacher who helps her learn to read and write,” Mrs. Bush wrote.

“After 30 years promoting literacy, I’ve never felt more energized. Watching this movie, I was reminded why it’s important that we keep working so hard. There are kids like Precious everywhere,” she wrote. “Kids want to learn. They want to stay in school. They want good jobs. They want a chance. Which is why, three decades ago, I decided to use my bully pulpit to promote literacy.”

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