Columba Bush is the wife of 2016 Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
The 65-year-old, 5-foot tall native of Mexico has in the past been “uncomfortable with the limelight,” her husband has said, but took a much more public role when her husband entered the 2016 presidential race. She has entered the world of social media on Twitter and Instagram, hosted fundraisers and joined her husband at speaking engagements.
Before and after her husband’s failed bid for president, Columba Bush has been a philanthropist, working with organizations that promote the arts and support women. She served as the First Lady of Florida from 1999 to 2007. She has been married to Jeb Bush since 1974. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1979, according to Politico.
Here’s what you need to know about Jeb Bush’s wife, Columba Bush:
1. Columba Garnica Gallo Met Jeb Bush in Her Mexican Hometown When They Were Teenagers
Columba Garnica Gallo was 16 when she met Jeb Bush in Leon, Mexico, her hometown, where the 17-year-old Bush was teaching English as a second language, according to a Washington Post profile.
“My life can be defined in one real, powerful way, which is B.C. and A.C.: Before Columba and After Columba,” Jeb Bush said while speaking on the campaign trail in 2015. “I fell madly in love with her — literally love at first sight. Whatever I was doing beforehand, I vaguely remember. But my life got really organized after that.”
They married four years later, in February 1974, in Texas at the Catholic student center on the campus of the University of Texas. According to The Washington Post, Columba did not speak English at the time and the ceremony was held in Spanish.
Columba Bush studied at Instituto Antonia Mayllen, a private Catholic school in Leon. She and her husband are both members of Regnum Christi, an international Catholic movement that aims to promote the Catholic faith. In 2003, she was part of an American delegation to John Paul II’s 25th anniversary as Pope.
Columba and Jeb Bush now live in Coral Gables, Florida. Her mother, lives in the Miami area. She has a sister, Lucila del Carmen Schmitz, who also lives in Florida, and a brother, Francisco Jose Garnica, who lives in Mexico. According to Politico, she has a strained relationship with her family, including her father, who she says abandoned their family to work in the U.S. Her parents divorced when she was 10 and she says her mother was the victim of domestic violence.
2. She & Her Husband Have 3 Children & 4 Grandchildren
Columba and Jeb Bush have three children, George P., Jeb Jr. and Noelle. They have four grandchildren, two by George P and two by Jeb Jr.
George P. Bush, 39, was elected as the Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, following his father into politics. He is an attorney and U.S. Navy Reserve officer. Jeb Bush Jr., 31, works for a commercial real estate firm in Miami. Noelle Bush, 37, works for a software firm in Orlando.
Both Jeb Jr. and Noelle have had run-ins with the law in the past. In 2005, Jeb Jr., then 21, was arrested in Austin, Texas, for public intoxication and resisting arrest, according to Politico.
Noelle Bush was arrested in 2002 on charges of fraudulently purchasing prescription drugs, the Washington Post reports. She then spent 10 days in jail after she was found hiding crack cocaine while in a court-ordered rehabilitation program.
3. Columba Bush Focused Her Political Efforts on the Arts, Fighting Drug Abuse & Domestic Violence Awareness
Columba Bush mainly stayed out of the spotlight during her time as Florida’s First Lady, but when she did use her political power to bring focus to causes, she often focused on the arts, fighting drug abuse and raising awareness about domestic violence. This May, she wrote an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, asking for support for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“I figured this would just be one of those obligatory first lady things that lasted about 15 minutes,” Tiffany Carr, the President and CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told The Hill, about Columba’s meeting with her in 2000. “But we took her to a couple of shelters and she had this immediate connection with people.”
4. She Was Thrust Into the Spotlight When Then-Candidate Trump Said Her Husband Was Soft on Immigration Because of Her
Columba Bush was thrust into the spotlight during her husband’s political campaign when she began one of the many targets of from then-candidate Donald Trump as he battled Jeb Bush and other Republicans for the GOP’s presidential nomination. Trump said during an interview in July that Jeb Bush has a moderate immigration policy because of his wife.
“If my wife were from Mexico, I think I would have a soft spot for people from Mexico,” Trump told CNN. During the second presidential debate, Jeb Bush was asked about that comment and said, “To subject my wife into the middle of political conversation was completely inappropriate, and I hope you apologize for that.”
“I have to tell you, I hear your wife is a lovely woman,” Trump replied. Jeb Bush retorted, “”She’s fantastic. She’s absolutely the love of my life and right here, and why don’t you apologize to her?” Trump would not back down, telling Jeb, “”I won’t do that because I said nothing wrong. I do hear she’s a lovely woman.”
Columba Bush has tried to avoid the spotlight other spouses in the political scene attract. “I have never been a social person. I think it’s just my personality. I just love silence. I like to read a good book and go for a walk,” she told The Associated Press in 2001. By marrying Jeb, Columba entered a political dynasty that includes two former presidents, the George H.W. Bush, Jeb’s father, and George W. Bush, his brother. While her husband was running for president, she was able to seek advice from two former first ladies, the Barbara Bush and Laura Bush. But being part of one of the most recognizable political families in modern American history was not what she ever expected.
“I did not ask to join a famous family,” she has said, according to The Post. “I simply wanted to marry a man that I loved.”
5. She Was Fined in 1999 for Lying to Customs About How Much She Spent on a Paris Shopping Trip & Her Spending on Jewelry Generated Controversy as First Lady
In 1999, not long after Jeb Bush became Florida’s governor, his wife was caught lying to the U.S. Customs about how much money she spent during a trip to Paris. The St. Petersburg Times reported at the time that Columba Bush failed to declare the value of her purchases twice.
According to the Times report, Bush misled the Customs agents about her $19,000 in purchases because she didn’t want her husband to know much she spent on the five-day shopping trip. She said she spent $500.
“My wife is not a public person. She is uncomfortable with the limelight, which is why I love her,” Bush said in a public statement disclosing the incident. “I don’t want a political wife — I want someone who when I get home I can have a normal life with.”
Bush was briefly detained and she paid a $4,100 fine. Her husband said she “felt horrible” about it, and “it was a difficult weekend at our house.”
“It is a lot of money. But look, that’s between her and me,” said Bush told the Sun-Sentinel in 1999. “The mistake was not filling out the form at Customs properly — that was the mistake.”
Documents uncovered during her husband’s run for office showed that Columba Bush has an expensive taste for jewelry. In 2000, she took out a loan to spend $42,311.70 on jewelry in a single day, the Washington Post reported. The documents also show she spent more than $90,000 at the South Florida store over a 14-year period.
“Mrs. Bush bought jewelry from time to time from Mayors Jewelers over the years. Though not required to be reported, these purchases in 2000 were included as accounts payable on Governor Bush’s financial disclosure that year, and paid off the next,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told the Post, adding that Jeb Bush was aware of the purchases at the time.
The documents show she spent $25,000 on platinum diamond studs and $10,500 on a Bulgari gold and diamond bracelet.