Medical Tuesday Blog
Barbara Pierce Bush
June 8, 1925 – April 17, 2018
Barbara Pierce was born to Marvin and Pauline Pierce in Flushing, Queens of New York City. Her father was president of the McCall Corporation, which published the well-known magazines McCall’s and Redbook. Growing up in an Episcopalian family in the bedroom community of Rye, New York, Bush was an athletic and witty child who loved—above all things—to read.
“The home is the child’s first school; the parent is the child’s first teacher; and reading is the child’s first subject.” –Barbara P. Bush
“…you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.” — Barbara Pierce Bush.
First Lady Barbara Bush
Her White House Historical Association biography declares: “Rarely has a First Lady been greeted by the American people and the press with the approbation and the warmth accorded to Barbara Pierce Bush. Perhaps this is prompted by the image she calls ‘everybody’s grandmother.’ People are comfortable with her white hair, her warm, relaxed manner, and her keen wit. With characteristic directness, she said people like her because they know ‘I’m fair and I like children and I adore my husband.'”
Devoted wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and tireless family literacy advocate, it was also Barbara Bush’s selfless service to others that made her one of the most endearing figures in our nation’s history and in the hearts of every life she touched. A strong proponent of volunteerism, she helped a broad range of causes — including caring for the homeless and the elderly, feeding the hungry, treatment of the AIDS virus, and a variety of children’s and other worthy charities. Of course, Barbara Bush’s signature cause came to be family literacy. Her Foundation for Family Literacy, from which she stepped aside in 2012, has raised and awarded over $110 million to create or expand family literacy programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“She is no stranger to dedicating her considerable skills and talent to helping others,” a 2002 tribute narrated by broadcaster Harry Smith went. “Throughout her years in public life, she has volunteered in helping hundreds of charitable and humanitarian causes. She has remained one of the most popular and admired women in the nation … Through her tireless service to others, Barbara Bush succeeds in showing us that, as she herself once noted, what happens in your house is every bit as important as what happens in the White House.”
The Bushes returned home to Houston after Jimmy Carter’s victory in the 1976 election, whereupon Mr. Bush quietly assembled a team and prepared to mount his 1980 candidacy for the presidency. He eventually fell short, accepted Ronald Reagan’s offer as running mate, and was sworn in as the 43rd Vice President of the United States on January 20, 1981.
Despite the demands and visibility of being First Lady, Mrs. Bush called her eight years as wife of the Vice President – from 1981 to 1989 – “the busiest of my life.” In all, she spent 1,629 days and 1.3 million miles traveling away from Washington. While in the Nation’s Capital, she hosted 1,192 events and attended another 1,232 events during the same span. She engaged a broad range of issues and causes including libraries, food banks, the Ronald McDonald House, the elderly, the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and the Peace Corps.
Barbara Bush was jogging on a hot summer day in Houston’s Memorial Park in 1978 when she got to thinking about her husband’s first presidential campaign, and what that could mean for her. If he was elected, she knew she wanted to have a positive impact on the lives of her fellow Americans, but of all the causes she contemplated she kept coming back to literacy. Inspired by business leaders, public officials, and other literacy advocates across the country, Mrs. Bush quickly came to believe that, in her words, “if more people could read or write, we could be much closer to solving so many other problems that our country faces.” Furthermore, she recognized the vital importance of family literacy – ensuring literacy programs were accessible to help struggling parents and children so they would have an equal chance to succeed in life.
Her literacy advocacy gradually expanded with her public profile. She unveiled billboards, visited Head Start and Even Start classes, supported alternative school programs for at-risk students like Cities in Schools, wrote dozens of articles, and participated in a variety of media programs to raise awareness of the basic need for every citizen to be able to read. In 1984, Mrs. Bush also published C. Fred’s Story: A Dog’s Life, which raised $100,000 for Literacy Volunteers of America and Laubach Literacy Action.
“We encouraged all sorts of literacy programs,” she recalled of those vice presidential years in A Memoir. “We visited senior citizens’ homes with reading classes. We supported English as a Second Language programs for immigrants who wanted to learn … We encouraged programs that worked with mothers who had dropped out of school. We tried to help programs that taught new mothers not only parenting skills but the importance of reading to their children.”
During her husband’s vice presidency, she participated in 537 literacy-related events and another 435 events related to volunteerism. “At times it was exhausting but it was always exhilarating. I always felt like I got more out than I put in,” she later wrote.
After leaving Washington, Mrs. Bush continued to volunteer her time to worthy causes and help others. Her Foundation for Family Literacy, from which she stepped aside in 2012, has raised and awarded over $110 million to create or expand family literacy programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. She also served as Americares ambassador-at-large; a Mayo Clinic Foundation board member; and a supporter of organizations including the Leukemia Society of America, the Ronald McDonald House, and the Boys & Girls Club of America.
Of course, Barbara Bush shares the rare distinction with Abigail Adams of being both a wife to, and mother of, a president. She addressed both the 2000 and the 2004 Republican National Conventions that nominated George W. and actively campaigned for him during both national campaigns. In 2016, at the age of 90, she also campaigned for her son and former Florida Governor, Jeb, as he vied for the Republican presidential nomination.
Another unique political moment came in November 1998, when George W. was re-elected Governor of Texas and Jeb was elected to the first of his two terms as Governor of Florida.
Several schools have been named for Mrs. Bush, including middle schools in San Antonio and Irving, Texas, and elementary schools in Houston, the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie and Mesa, Arizona. Also bearing her name is the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Mrs. Bush chronicled her life’s story in two autobiographies: Barbara Bush: A Memoir (1994), which covered her life through her husband’s term in office; and Reflections (2004), which focused on life after the White House and her first son’s ascension to the presidency.
“George Bush and I have been the two luckiest people in the world, and when all the dust has settled, and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends,” Barbara Bush wrote in 1993. “We have been inordinately blessed, and we know that.”
“And who knows? Somewhere out there in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse. I wish him well!” –Barbara P. Bush