Barbara Pierce Bush, the fiercely loyal wife of one U.S. president and mother of another who was a champion of literacy and admired public figure in her own right, died Tuesday at her west Houston home. She was 92.
Her husband, former President George Herbert Walker Bush, was at her side, having held her hand all day, according to a family statement, which described him as “broken-hearted.”
Relatives said she died of complications from congestive heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. With her health in decline, the family said in a statement Sunday that she had decided to forgo additional medical treatment and focus on comfort care. She was surrounded by family in her final days.
“My dear mother has passed on at age 92,” former President George Walker Bush said in a written statement. “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. To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I’m a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother. Our family will miss her dearly, and we thank you all for your prayers and good wishes.”
Bush possessed a no-nonsense style that pulled no punches and told it like it was — graciously. The Texas matriarch was a strong, steadfast partner in her husband’s political life, privately offering her own opinions while standing dutifully by his side as they moved around the country and world in pursuit of his ambitions.
The couple exemplified a certain Texas grace, showing politeness, kindness and respect with a steady sense of humor. They ushered in an era of political prominence for the state and their family that would span decades, drawing both ire and praise.
When another son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, explored a 2016 run for the White House, Barbara Bush famously said the nation might have had “enough Bushes.” She later changed her mind, though she never did cotton to the word “dynasty.”
An old-line Republican who hewed to a more civil time, she made no secret during the presidential campaign of her contempt for Donald Trump’s treatment of women, once saying in a television interview, “I don’t know how women can vote [for him.]”
Bush played the obliging spouse over 73 years of marriage to the man she met at age 16. With a string of pearls around her neck and her white hair elegantly coiffed, she accompanied him on frequent outings to the theater and to cheer on the Astros. The two could often be spotted dining out in Houston or among the pews at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.
Her enduring passion, however, was helping children learn to read – and giving their families the tools to help.
She supported literacy both during her time in the White House and after her husband’s presidency ended in January 1993. She championed the National Literacy Act, which was signed into law in 1991, drawing widespread attention to the cause. A namesake national foundation, which she launched, and a local one continued to further this work.
The first lady believed everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed in life — something that would not be possible without the ability to read and write, said Julie Finck, president of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. Bush’s son Neil, who started the local foundation with his wife in 2013, had dyslexia. She was an avid reader herself, listening more recently to audio books.
“She has lived a life of service to others,” Finck said. “She has used her stature across our country to get more people behind the literacy cause and to roll up their sleeves and make a difference.”
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