Barbara Bush, the legendary Bush family matriarch, the mother and wife of two presidents, and a beloved woman known for her acerbic wit, fierce loyalty, literacy cause, and ever-present strand of pearls, died on April 17, 2018, at the age of 92. Bush’s death was confirmed by the office of her husband, former President George H.W. Bush.
George H.W. Bush died shortly after Barbara, on November 30, 2018, at the age of 94.
Born Barbara Pierce on June 8, 1925, in New York City, the former First Lady of the United States met her future husband, George H.W. Bush, when she was a teenager and would forge a partnership with him that lasted 73 years, the longest of any presidential couple. She and Abigail Adams share the distinction of being the only women to both marry and birth a president of the United States. In addition to being the wife of former President George H.W. Bush, she is the mother of former President George W. Bush.
“I always knew Barbara was the most beloved woman in the world, and in fact I used to tease her that I had a complex about that fact. But the truth is the outpouring of love and friendship being directed at The Enforcer is lifting us all up,’ George H.W. Bush, who held Barbara’s hand as she died, said in a statement. “We have faith she is in heaven, and we know life will go on – as she would have it. So cross the Bushes off your worry list.”
Both Barbara and George H.W. Bush had been in failing health in recent years, but the First Lady’s situation took a turn for the worse on April 15, 2018, and prayers flooded in for the Bushes from around the nation. “If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather that dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities,” says a quote attributed to Barbara Bush on her biography page at her husband’s presidential library.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Barbara Bush Was Suffering from Lung Disease & Congestive Heart Failure
The 92-year-old First Lady was in failing health and decided to stop receiving any further medical care, transitioning to “comfort care,” according to a statement from the Office of George H.W. Bush. That statement, coming on April 15, 2018, was the first clue to the public that Barbara Bush might be in end days.
The beloved Bush family matriarch had bouts of medical trouble in the past, when both she and her husband, the former president, were hospitalized. However, this sounded more serious from the start. You can read the Bush statement on the First Lady’s health here:
The statement read:
Following a recent series of hospitalizations, and after consulting her family and doctors, Mrs. Bush, now age 92, has decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care. It will not surprise those who know her that Barbara Bush has been a rock in the face of her failing health, worrying not for herself – thanks to her abiding faith – but for others. She is surrounded by a family she adores, and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving.
Barbara Bush was suffering from congestive heart failure and COPD and no longer wished to go back to the hospital.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) “is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Symptoms include breathing difficulty, cough, mucus (sputum) production and wheezing.” It can lead to heart failure over time. It’s a treatable and chronic condition, but the symptoms are known to worsen over time, Mayo Clinic reports.
In 2017, both Barbara and George H.W. Bush ended up in the hospital. “Mrs. Bush was admitted to the Houston Methodist Hospital this morning as a precaution after experiencing fatigue and coughing,” a Bush family spokesperson said at that time. However, the First Lady was eventually discharged and seemed to recover.
In 2017, George W. Bush gave an update on both of his parents’ health conditions.
Both Bushes recovered enough from the 2017 medical crisis to participate in the coin toss for Super Bowl 2017.
2. Barbara Bush Was the Daughter of a State Supreme Court Justice & Magazine Company President
Barbara Bush is a distant relative to another president, and her mother’s family had some involvement in politics, although her father worked for a magazine company.
“Barbara Bush was born Barbara Pierce on June 8, 1925, in New York City. Her mother, Pauline Pierce, was the daughter of an Ohio Supreme Court justice and dedicated to conservation efforts as a chairwoman of the Garden Club of America,” Biography.com reports.
Her father, Marvin Pierce, was a distant descendant of 14th President of the United States Franklin Pierce and president of the McCall Corporation, which published the well-known magazines McCall’s and Redbook.”
According to Barbara Bush’s biography on the George H.W. Bush presidential library website, she grew up in Rye, New York, “where she met and later married George H.W. Bush on January 6, 1945.” Her First Lady biography reports that she is of English, German, Scottish, and French descent.
“She is also a direct descendant of Henry Sampson, an English immigrant who arrived in the colonies on the Mayflower,” the site reports. “…She also shares several family lines with Abigail Adams, the only other woman who was both wife and mother to U.S. Presidents. One chart claims that some thirty generations back into her genealogy that Lady Godiva was an ancestor. Barbara Pierce Bush is also a fourth cousin four times removed of President Franklin Pierce…They share an early New England ancestor named Thomas Pierce.”
Barbara Bush faced tragedy when her mother was killed in a car accident. “In September 1949, Barbara’s parents were involved in a car accident in which her mother was instantly killed,” Biography.com reports. Her First Lady biography says that her father Marvin Pierce “married a second time in June 1952, to artist and Associated Press reporter Willa Martin.” Barbara Bush was one of four children, and had a sister and two brothers.
According to FirstLadies.org, “Barbara Bush’s love of reading was encouraged early. She recalled that her childhood evenings were spent with her family members gathered together, each of them engrossed in their reading material. Although the Pierce family had servants and enjoyed a more privileged life than most families during the Depression, they were not among the wealthiest set of Rye, New York.”
3. George & Barbara Bush Met as Teenagers
Barbara Bush met George H.W. Bush when she was a teenager. George H.W. Bush is 93-years-old. According to US News and World Report, George H.W. and Barbara Bush are the longest married presidential couple in U.S. history, trailed by John and Abigail Adams, who were married for 54 years. The Bushes have been married for 73 years.
The couple met at a Massachusetts dance when Barbara was 16 and George was 17, Biography.com reports, and they weathered separation when George H.W. Bush went off to fight in World War II. She briefly attended but then dropped out of Smith College.
George H.W. Bush would go on to be sworn in as President of the United States on January 20, 1989. He also served as vice president and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He also worked as a Texas oilman after graduating from Yale University.
Barbara Bush and her husband endured several moves and his time away in the military and as a businessman. “While her husband was often away on business, Barbara Bush’s life was strictly confined to the traditional responsibilities of motherhood and housekeeping, as well as some civic activities including teaching Sunday school and volunteering for the local theater company, YMCA, United Way and hospital,” FirstLadies.org notes.
The White House Historical Association notes, “Mrs. Bush managed 29 moves of the household. She became the family linchpin, providing everything from discipline to carpools.”
4. The Bushes Had Six Children Together, Including a Daughter Who Died Young
The Bushes had six children together – one who became president and the other who became the governor of Florida – but they also weathered family tragedy. “They have four sons – George W., Jeb, Marvin, and Neil – a daughter, Doro, 17 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren,” Bush’s biography reads. However, the Bush family’s second child, Robin, “died in 1953 at the age of three after fighting leukemia,” reads the website.
Barbara Bush has spoken openly throughout the years about the loss of their child. She has also indicated that this was the moment her hair turned white.
Barbara said that she and George felt an enormous pain after Robin’s death. She told Texas Monthly: “It felt like our hearts were breaking. … I hadn’t cried at all when Robin was alive, but after she died, I felt I could cry forever. George had a much harder time when she was sick. He was just killing himself, while I was very strong. That’s the way a good marriage works. Had I cried a lot, he wouldn’t have. But then things reversed after she died. George seemed to accept it better.”
Barbara’s son, George W. Bush, would go on to be elected to the presidency of the United States, and her son, Jeb, was elected governor of Florida and mounted an ultimately failed 2016 presidential campaign.
5. Barbara Bush Was Known for Her Acerbic Wit, for Championing Literacy & for Her Ever-Present Strands of Pearls
As First Lady, Barbara Bush’s cause was literacy. “Barbara Bush’s signature cause is family literacy, a passion that began during the 1980s when statistics showed that 35 million U.S. adults could not read above the eighth-grade level,” according to her presidential library biography.
“During her husband’s vice-presidential years, she unveiled billboards, visited Head Start and Even Start classes, supported alternative school programs for at-risk students like Cities in Schools, 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,” the biography notes.
As First Lady, she continued championing this case, creating Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, “focusing simultaneously on early childhood education for preschoolers and adult literacy for their parents,” the bio reads, adding that Barbara Bush, in 1990, published a second book called Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush.
The White House Historical Association describes Barbara Bush’s enduring popularity, saying, “people are comfortable with her warm, relaxed manner and keen wit” and quoting her as explaining that people like her because they know “I’m fair and I like children and I adore my husband.” Her signature look was an ever-present strand of large white pearls.