Remembering Barbara Bush, political dynasty matriarch

We look back at the life of former first lady Barbara Bush. Son and former President George W. Bush describes his family saying goodbye in a conversation with Amy Holmes and Michael Gerson, then Judy Woodruff gets remembrances from Susan Page of USA Today, C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush and Bonnie Steinroeder, former pastor at the First Congregational Church of Kennebunkport.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    She was a wife and mother to presidents, but a lack of pretension and a sense of humor that could be self-deprecating were what endeared Barbara Bush to the American people.

    She stood out in a crowd, with a shock of white hair that earned her the family nickname Silver Fox. It was part of Barbara Bush’s determination to be herself, as she recalled in 2004 for a PBS documentary.

  • Barbara Bush:

    Who’s jealous of an overweight, white-haired woman? Nobody. So, I think that was in my benefit, in a way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The future first lady was born Barbara Pierce in New York City in 1925, to Marvin and Pauline Pierce. Her father was president of McCall Corporation, of “Redbook” and “McCall” magazine fame.

    The family lived in Rye, New York, where Barbara grew up with three siblings. From there, she went off to Smith College, but in 1945, she dropped out to marry George Bush, who was on leave from the Navy. They’d met four years earlier.

    The couple moved to Texas in 1948 with their first child, a son, George W. He was soon joined by a sister, Robin. But she developed leukemia and died at the age of 3, a tragedy that reshaped the family.

    Three other children followed, and Barbara went on to oversee a total of 27 moves, as her husband’s career took them around the world, from Texas, where he built his fortune in the oil fields, to politics and public life. In the 1960s and ’70s, Barbara was by his side for two losing U.S. Senate bids, a winning campaign for a U.S. House seat, and stints as U.N. ambassador, chair of the Republican Party and CIA director.

    In 1980, he ran for president and ultimately ended up as Ronald Reagan’s running mate. As a political spouse, Barbara Bush’s wry sense of humor endeared her to many, but she later acknowledged it didn’t suit everyone.

  • Barbara Bush:

    Well, I tried to behave myself, but I’m a little impulsive. So, occasionally, I said things I was sort of sorry I said, but I think I believed them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That tendency caused her trouble in 1984 when she referred to Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, as something that — quote — “rhymes with rich.” Mrs. Bush quickly apologized.

    She remained plainspoken after her husband won the White House for himself in 1988. Right from the start, the new first lady set a new tone, downplaying fashion, for instance, in sharp contrast with her predecessor, Nancy Reagan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In 1989, she even wore camouflage gear on a trip to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War to visit with U.S. troops at Thanksgiving.

    Mrs. Bush also made dogs a fixture in the first family’s life. Millie, their springer spaniel, had the run of the White House. Millie produced a famous litter of puppies, displayed before the Washington press corps when they were just a few days old.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In time, Mrs. Bush was inspired to write a bestselling children’s work, titled “Millie’s Book.”

    She reminisced about it in 2012 at the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

  • Barbara Bush:

    And she made over a million dollars for charity. As George says, I worked all my life, got the highest job maybe in the world, and my dog made more money than I did.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Writing her own book was just part of a larger campaign for literacy in America. Barbara Bush took an active role in several literacy organizations, including the one she founded.

  • Barbara Bush:

    Remember, we have a new baby in the house.

    I have now spent more than 25 years promoting family literacy, as I truly believe that being able to read, write and comprehend is one of the Keys to a very successful, happy life, and that a literate society is important to keeping our country safe and strong.

  • Barbara Bush:

    What’s the matter with Americans? You’re in the best shape of any country in the world. Don’t Americans know that when you achieve peace ,it costs money? Peace is costly? We ought to be willing to pay for the fact that we go to bed every single night of our life freer and safer because of George Bush.

    Things are turning, Judy, and they are coming to a strong economy. But we’re going to have to all work for it. But it’s because we all have peace, and we ought to be darn grateful to George Bush.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mrs. Bush made one of her last public appearances in March, with her husband and presidential scholars, in College Station, Texas.

    Campaigner, literacy advocate, first lady, mother, and wife, and, as her family described Barbara Bush, their linchpin.

    Barbara Bush was 92 years old.

    In Dallas today, her eldest child, President George W. Bush, opened up about his family’s loss. He sat down with the PBS public affairs show “In Principle” hosted by Amy Holmes and Michael Gerson, earlier served as one of the younger President Bush’s White House speechwriters.

    Mr. Bush began by discussing his father and how he was mourning.

  • President George W. Bush:

    I’m very appreciative of the outpouring of sympathies, particularly for my dad, you know.

    At age 93, he’s going to miss mother. After all, they were married for 73 years. I’m comfortable with her passing because she was comfortable with her passing. And she told me point blank, “I do not fear death. I know there’s a loving God.”

    And I have told my — our daughters and some of my brothers and sisters, wow, what a beautiful, beautiful lesson.

    I don’t want to sound cavalier, but I truly am at peace, and I feel very blessed. And, plus, my mother, I can just hear her saying, get on with your life and do something good.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • President George W. Bush:

    Yes.

    There was a lot of psychobabble about my relationship with my parents during the presidency, and it’s natural, because people haven’t had a chance to ask many presidents, what it’s like to be president with your father being a former president and mother a former first lady?

    And the most important thing they told me was, “Son, I love you, and we’re proud of you,” which is the most important thing any parent can tell a child.

  • President George W. Bush:

    I did, yes. Laura and I went over and saw her at the hospital. She was doing pretty well, slightly feisty still, which is a good sign.

    And she and I used to kind of needle each other in a friendly way. And then the doctor walked into this hospital room. And mother said, “Do you want to know why George W. is the way he is, Doctor?”

    And the doctor didn’t have any choice.

    And mother said, “Because I drank and smoked when I was pregnant with him.”

    (LAUGHTER)

  • President George W. Bush:

    So, I knew she was feeling pretty good. And then, a week later, she went downhill. But she chose no — didn’t want to have any life-sustaining care. In other words, she was ready to move. And they made her comfortable.

    And I called her yesterday, when I had the sense that she was ready to go. She couldn’t talk back, but I told her how much I loved…

Leave a Reply