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On Saturday, April 22, over 1000 mourners, including four of the five living former presidents, from across the country, gathered at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, in Houston, Texas to honor and remember Barbara Bush. The 92-year-old, who suffered from a series of health complications, passed away peacefully in the comfort of her Houston home on April 17 with the love of her life, former president George H.W. Bush, by her side.
Born in the upscale town of Rye, New York on June 8, 1925, Mrs. Bush met her future husband at a school dance when she was just 16 years old, and he, a year older. They got married in 1945 after George H.W. Bush, the youngest fighter pilot in the US Navy, returned a war hero from World War II.
In addition to boasting the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history (73 years), the former first lady is only the second woman after Abigail Adams to have both husband and son elected president. Dubbed “The Enforcer” by her six children, the beloved matriarch was known for her wit, tough love, and ability to empathize with people. “Mother was there to maintain order and discipline. She was the sergeant," said former president George W. Bush in 2016.
Mrs. Bush was a strong supporter of women’s rights. In her 1990 commencement speech to the graduating class of Wellesley College, the first lady made national headlines with her closing remarks, saying, “Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president's spouse. I wish him well.”
However, her biggest passion was championing literacy for not just children, but adults as well. While that may seem unnecessary, experts estimate that an astounding 36 million adults in the U.S. have low literacy skills, and one in four adults cannot read beyond a 5th-grade level. "I chose literacy because 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 and our society," she said.
The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, provides grants to allow low-income parents and their young children, from birth through age five, to attend school together. Kids in elementary school can boost their reading and comprehension skills through the Teen Trendsetters program that pairs them with high school mentors. Since the foundation was established, in 1989, its programs have resulted in a 70% decline in the number of children at risk for developmental delays. Even more encouraging, parents enrolled in the programs have, on average, improved their literacy skills by two grade levels within a year. Elementary students who were typically half a year behind in reading before entering the Teen Trendsetters program improved their reading skills by an entire grade level.
Honored as "the first lady of the greatest generation" during her service, Mrs. Bush’s legacy will be hard to surpass. As her son George W. Bush succinctly put it, “Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions. To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end.”
Resources: cnn.com, barbarabush.org,usatoday.com