The world is in mourning. On Monday, April 16, Barbara Bush’s family announced she would not be seeking treatment for health-related concerns anymore, and just a day later — on the evening of April 17 — the matriarch of the Bush family died at 92 years old.
The New York Times published a report that included a statement from Jim McGrath, the post-White House spokesperson for Bush and her husband, George H.W. Bush, confirming Barbara Bush’s death. “A former First Lady of the United States and a relentless proponent of family literacy, Barbara Pierce Bush passed away Tuesday, April 17, 2018, at the age of 92,” the statement reads. “She is survived by her husband of 73 years, President George H.W. Bush; five children and their spouses; 17 grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and her brother, Scott Pierce. She was preceded in death by her second child, Pauline Robinson ‘Robin’ Bush, and her siblings Martha Rafferty and James R. Pierce.”
According to CNN, Bush was suffering from health complications related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure before her death, but her actual cause of death has yet to be confirmed.
— Jim McGrath (@jgm41) April 17, 2018
On Monday, Bush’s granddaughter, Jenna Bush Hager, appeared on Today to speak with coanchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb about her mother’s health. Despite Bush’s declining health, Hagar told them she “is in great spirits and she’s a fighter. She’s an enforcer.”
Hagar also tearfully remarked that she, along with the rest of her family, loved Bush very much. “We are grateful for her. She the best grandma anybody could have ever had — or have,” she told Guthrie and Kotb.
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) April 16, 2018
Bush’s legacy is a distinct one. She has the unique honor of being the second woman in U.S. history to be both the wife of a former president and the mother of a former president (Abigail Adams, whose husband, John Adams, was our second president and her son, John Quincy Adams, who was our sixth, holds the honor too). She was celebrated for her no-frills approach to being the first lady during her husband’s presidential tenure from 1989 to 1993. She kept her hair white when the time came, wore pearls, didn’t bother with makeup and instead, focused her energy on her work. In her 1994 memoir, Barbara Bush: A Memoir, she wrote of her time as first lady, “I had the best job in America. Every single day was interesting, rewarding, and sometimes just plain fun.”
Interestingly, in that memoir, Bush also revealed she was a bit of a revolutionary compared to her more conservative husband, but claims she kept her contrarian opinions to herself during her husband’s time in office. Those opinions included her support for legal abortion and her opposition to the sale of legal assault weapons, something that would have certainly worked against the positions held by a Republican president from Texas.
She devoted much of her time to helping others, with her primary work devoted to family literacy. Bush founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy in 1989 with the specific purpose of helping both children and adults improve their literacy skills. It became one of Bush’s most well-known projects, and it was one her daughter-in-law, Laura Bush, continued when she was first lady.
Bush was also devoted to her family. She and her husband celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary on Jan. 6, making their marriage the longest of any presidential couple to date. She got to see two of her four children (George W. Bush and Jeb Bush) rise to great political heights. Hopefully, admirers of Bush’s who are sad to hear of her death can find comfort in the fact that she was surrounded by her family in her final days.
But Bush’s life is much more than the summary given in an official statement or what is written here. By way of the same NYT report that confirmed her death, a quote from Bush’s writing in 1988 tells us about how she would like to be remembered: “I want to be known as a wife, a mother, a grandmother. That’s what I am. And I’d like to be known as someone who really cared about people and worked very, very hard to make America more literate.” We couldn’t have said it better if we tried.