Inside Barbara Bush’s Quiet Yet Forceful Influence on American Politics

Former First Lady Barbara Bush, wife of former President George H.W. Bush and mother to former President George W. Bush, died on Tuesday at the age of 92.

She was born Barbara Pierce, the daughter of publisher Marvin Pierce, and attended Smith College until she dropped out to marry George H.W. Bush, whom she’d met at a party in Greenwich, Conn., over a winter break. As a result of that meeting, she would garner important, if subtle, political influence.

When Margaret Carlson, who also memorialized Bush for TIME on Tuesday, profiled the then-new First Lady in a TIME cover story entitled “The Silver Fox” in the Jan. 23, 1989, issue, the magazine explored how she would make the transition from the role of Second Lady—more able to speak her mind, not quite so visible—to White House resident. And, as the story explained, she seemed like “the right woman in the right place.” She seemed to walk the line between the necessarily supporting nature of the role and the personal activism expected of a First Lady, campaigning “tirelessly” for her husband but also finding inspiration in her role as a mother and wife.

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Sure enough, when her husband was elected the 41st President of the United States, she promoted efforts to combat illiteracy (inspired by her son Neil’s dyslexia) and research for cancer cures (inspired by the death of her daughter Robin at just 3 years old). Here’s how TIME described the way that she wielded influence in her husband’s political career in…

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