Published On: Fri, Apr 20th, 2018

Barbara Pierce Bush: Her Enduring Legacy Will Serve to Inspire Others

She was one of the feistiest yet dignified first ladies we have had in years.

And to the end of her long and eventful life, Barbara Pierce Bush, 92, the wife of the 41st president and the mother of the 43rd, faced her failing health with courage and grit.

When I heard the news on Sunday that she decided to spend her final days in her home surrounded by loved ones – instead of in a hospital bed – I said that was so indicative of her characteristic candor.

Mrs. Bush, who served in the White House between 1989 and 1993, embodied strength, grace, and dedication to family and faith.

She was very involved, particularly in serving others. A tireless advocate for volunteerism, she helped countless charities and humanitarian causes during her years in public life.

As first lady, she was famous for her quest to make sure that everyone can read.  Since she left the White House 25 years ago, she continued that work with The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, which has raised more than a billion dollars for charity.

There were a few things I like about Mrs. Bush. Among them was that she had a lot of integrity. She reminded me so much of former Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She was gracious, not glamorous.

And as she walked the world stage as wife of the most powerful leader, she left political matters to her husband of 73 years. Still, beneath her grandmotherly aura, she maintained a stand by your man stance. In fact, cross her the wrong way or say something not nice about her sons and I am sure you would have experienced her blistering wrath. She also had a tart tongue, which occasionally got her in trouble.

I recall in 1984 when she said she could not reveal the term she would use to describe Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, “but it rhymes with rich.” Ferraro had campaigned against her husband as Walter Mondale’s vice-presidential running mate.

Not once to mince words, her sage advice to high-powered young women at Wellesley College during their 1990 commencement, will long be remembered.

“Cherish your human connections: your relationships with family and friends,” she told them. “You’ve had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work. And, of course, that’s true. But as important as your obligations as a doctor, a lawyer, a business leader will be, you are a human being first. And those human connections … are the most important investments you will ever make.”

After congratulating them, she added:

“At the end of life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.”

Let us face it, “Barbs” did not try to be something she was not. She was human and I admired that in her.

I will always admire her heart for children and her desire to improve the lives of others.

The 1989 photos of her cradling H.I.V.-infected infants at a home she visited in Washington, as well as an infected adult man is still etched in my memory.

This was at a time of irrational fear about the spread of HIV/AIDS.

 

Her action sent a powerful message of compassion, love and acceptance.  

Mrs. Bush and I shared a passion for literacy, education, and service to others. It is humbling to know that we have traveled the same path of dedicating so much of our lives to the issues we care deeply about.

Those fond memories, among others, will live on long after she leaves this world.

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