Barbara Bush, the witty, gregarious matriarch of a political dynasty that propelled two of its members to the White House, died Tuesday after a series of recent hospitalizations, the office of George H.W. Bush said in a statement. She was 92.
In a statement Sunday, the family said Barbara had decided not to seek additional medical treatment and instead sought comfort care at home.
“My dear mother has passed on at age 92. Laura, Barbara, Jenna, and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was. Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions,” former president George W. Bush wrote in a statement Tuesday night. “To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I’m a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother. Our family will miss her dearly, and we thank you all for your prayers and good wishes.”
Reaction to Barbara Bush’s death
President Trump took to Twitter to offer a statement on Barbara’s passing, writing “Mrs. Bush was an advocate of the American family”:
Former president Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the following statement of condolence:
Barbara Bush was a remarkable woman. She had grit and grace, brains and beauty. She was fierce and feisty in support of her family and friends, her country and her causes. She showed us what an honest, vibrant, full life looks like. Hillary and I mourn her passing and bless her memory.
We will never forget the courtesy and kindness she and President Bush showed us, starting when I was governor in 1983. I’ll always treasure my summer visits to Kennebunkport. Barbara joked that George and I spent so much time together I had become almost a member of the family, the “black sheep” that had gone astray.
Our hearts and prayers go out to President Bush; to George, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and to the entire Bush family she loved so much. We know that through them her remarkable strength, warmth and wit, and her devotion to our country will live on.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, wrote that Barbara “holds a revered place in the hears of generations of Americans”:
Former vice president Al Gore wrote on Twitter that Barbara “was a pillar of strength”:
Barbara Bush legacy
Bush spent her life in public service, but she never wavered from her belief that being a wife and mother was her greatest contribution to society.
“No, I’m the mother of wonderful children. And the wife of the world’s greatest man,” she told Norah O’Donnell on “CBS This Morning” in 2016 when O’Donnell described her as beloved.
And despite her lifelong devotion to the Republican party, she was not afraid to hit back and defend her family when then-candidate Donald Trump went after her son, Jeb, who was also seeking the Republican nomination.
Bush expressed disbelief about some of the things then-candidate Trump had said about women.
“I mean, unbelievable. I don’t know how women can vote for someone who said what he said about Megyn Kelly,” she said. “And we knew what he meant too!”
Barbara Pierce was born in Rye, New York, near the Connecticut border in 1925, the third child of Pauline and Marvin Pierce, a magazine executive. When she was 16, she met George Herbert Walker Bush at a school dance in Greenwich, Connecticut. After several months of courtship, George Bush invited her to his senior prom.
“After the dance, [he] walked me home and, in front of the world, leaned down and kissed me on the cheek,” Barbara Bush wrote in her 1994 memoir. “I floated into my room and kept the poor girl I was rooming with awake all night while I made her listen to how Poppy Bush was the greatest living human on the face of the Earth.”
In 1943, George Bush became the Navy’s youngest pilot while Barbara enrolled in Smith College. The couple exchanged letters over the course of George’s deployment in the Pacific, until one day Barbara received a letter from another pilot saying George’s plane had been shot down. For three days, George’s fate was unclear, but eventually the Navy alerted Barbara that he had in fact survived. Two of his fellow crewmates, however, did not.
The couple wed on Jan. 6, 1945, and would go on to have four sons — George W., Jeb, Marvin and Neil — a daughter, Doro, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. But their family life was also touched by tragedy: The Bush family’s second child, Robin, died in 1953 at the age of three after a battle with leukemia.
Bush recalled on the “Today” show in 2016 that doctors said “My advice is take her home, love her. In about two weeks she’ll be gone.”
But instead they took her Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City, where doctors treated her aggressively and added seven months to her life. “I was combing her hair and holding her hand,” Bush told “Today.” “I saw that little body, I saw her spirit go.”
Thirty-six years later, Bush cried when discussing the decision she made to try an aggressive surgery to prolong Robin’s life, according to Vanity Fair. Bush was only 28 years old when her daughter died, but the ordeal turned her hair white. She told “Today” that Robin is who her husband “will see first” when he dies.
As a young couple, the Bush’s moved to Texas, where George Bush built his oil business. A millionaire before the age of 40, George Bush was a Goldwater Republican and was elected as the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party in 1963. Barbara Bush began her life as a political wife by visiting all 189 precincts in Harris County, Texas to support his bid.
George Bush lost his first bid for Congress in 1964 but his luck change din 1966. At the time, with Texan Lyndon Johnson occupying the White House and the Democratic political machine controlling Austin, Bush became the first Republican congressman to be elected from Texas since Reconstruction. His home county, Harris County, has not elected a Republican to Congress since.
Their quiet life in Texas changed as the family headed to Washington, D.C. — one of numerous moves that Barbara Bush organized during their marriage, including one to Beijing, so he could represent the U.S. as ambassador to China.
George Bush first ran for president in 1980. During the primaries, Barbara Bush made headlines for throwing her support behind the continuous Equal Rights Amendment and saying she agreed with Roe v. Wade. After George Bush lost the Republican nomination and joined Ronald Reagan’s ticket, she distanced herself from earlier headlines.
As the second lady, Barbara Bush focused on literacy as her signature issue and solidified her reputation for baking cookies, knitting and as America’s grandmother. But another side could sometimes slip out: During the 1984 election, she referred to Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro as the “that $4 million—I can’t say it, but it rhymes with ‘rich.'” She later apologized for the remark with a personal phone call.
Her husband successfully won the presidency in 1988 and Bush ascended to the role as first lady. In 1989, as the AIDS virus terrified Americans, Bush took the press corps with her to visit a residence for HIV-infected babies. With the cameras clicking away, she hugged a 20-month old who recently had been diagnosed with AIDS.
“You can hug and pick up AIDS babies and people who have the HIV virus” without hurting yourself, she she said. “There is a need for compassion.”
It was a moment that defined her time as first lady.
“In the thirty-some years I’ve been around American politics, she’s far and away the greatest political spouse I’ve seen,” says political strategist Edward J. Rollins, one of the managers of Ross Perot’s campaign, told Vanity Fair in 1992.
During her time at the White House, the former first lady’s signature cause was family literacy focusing on bringing awareness to early childhood education and adult literacy for parents. She later launched the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy during her husband’s presidency.
“I honestly believe that if more people could read, write and comprehend, we would be that much closer to solving so many of the problems that plague our nation,” she said in a 1990 speech.
The 1992 election pitted George and Barbara Bush, members of the Greatest Generation, against Baby Boomers Bill and Hillary Clinton. Voters chose the younger generation, dealing a personal blow to the Bushes.
Following their time in politics, the couple would later call Kennebunkport, Maine, one of their homes during their retirement years, dividing time between the Bush compound in the coastal town and their home in Houston, Texas.
But a political family had been born. Their oldest son, George W. Bush, defeated Democrat Ann Richards to become Texas Governor in 1994 — and Democrats have not managed to win back the statehouse since. He went on to win the presidency in 2000 and managed a feat his father hadn’t by winning a second term in 2004.
Another son, Jeb Bush, became the 43rd governor of Florida in 1999. Ever the political animal, Bush campaigned with Jeb in 2016 in his bid for the Republican nomination. But perhaps Americans heeded his mother’s own words when she said the country had “had enough Bushes,” because he won not a single state in the 2016 primary.
Although maybe not: Her 38-year-old grandson, George P. Bush, was elected Texas land commissioner in May 2018, leading many to speculate he could go on to higher offices.
In 2016, Jeb told Norah O’Donnell on “CBS This Morning” that his mother provided him with “unconditional love.”