by Christian Petrillo
Known by many titles such as “the Enforcer” and “the Matriarch,” Former First Lady Barbara Bush undoubtedly cherished the titles of mother and wife more than anything else. Mother to six children and wife to her husband for seventy-three years, Barbara Bush, at age 92, entered the final stages of her life over the weekend, as she chose not to seek further medical treatment. Monday night she accepted phone calls and sipped bourbon. Hours later, on Tuesday evening, she died at home in Houston. Bush suffered for years from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). She often minimized her own health issues and decided to focus rather on her family and her faith. Barbara Bush is a true profile in compassion and grace. Regardless of your views in this hyper-polarized political climate, it is important to honor our former first lady and her extraordinary life.
Born in New York in 1925, Barbara Pierce met her husband, George Bush, at a dance when she was sixteen years-old. A year and a half later, Pierce and Bush were engaged right before George went to serve in World War II as a bomber pilot. Once married, Barbara followed her husband around the United States, eventually settling in Texas, where George ran for Congress in 1966. From the early days, Barbara was an eager campaigner and at times her husband’s greatest advocate. George would go on to work in the Nixon Administration as Ambassador to the United Nations and in the Ford Administration as Director of the CIA before serving as Vice President under Ronald Reagan. Throughout these years, George could always rely upon the support of Barbara. When he decided to succeed Reagan and run for president in 1988, Barbara spoke in support of her husband at the Republican National Convention, becoming only the second spouse to do so, after Eleanor Roosevelt.
As First Lady, she emphasized the importance of literacy and founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. She also broke stereotypes surrounding HIV, when in 1989 she visited babies infected with HIV and hugged them in her tender arms. While doing this she said to reporters that “there’s a need for compassion,” a word that certainly characterized her time in the White House. Barbara Bush occupied a unique position in American History when her son, George W. Bush, was elected president in 2000. Only Abigail Adams had previously served as both a wife and a mother to two presidents. It was during her son’s time in the Oval Office that Barbara came to be known as “the Enforcer,” the one who through her straightforwardness and honesty got things done.
Barbara loved her husband and her children. She also loved her country. In her 92 years of life, she witnessed both triumphant and tragic events in our nation’s history at a unique vantage point. Through all of this, she maintained her compassion and grace, two nouns lacking in our politics today. May we pray for the entire Bush family in this time of great grief.