Barbara Bush was nation’s matriarch

It’s not every day the nation loses the wife and mother of a president.

It thus is a sort of unstated requirement that Americans paused and remembered Barbara Bush on her death Tuesday at age 92. She had declined further medical treatment for a variety of heart ailments earlier last week.

As the Democrats had Rose Kennedy as the matriarch of their leading political family, Barbara Bush was the counterpart on the Republican side, wife of the 41st president of the United States, George Bush, and mother of the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush. Abigail Adams was the only other American woman to have such a claim as wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams.

Like the Kennedys, where son Ted never got to be president, Bush son Jeb never was able to rise to the presidency during his mother’s lifetime. She didn’t hold office, but she did shape the nation as matriarch of her family, as well-spoken representative of the nation, and, simply, as a mother and grandmother.

She took on literacy as a personal cause after son Neil was diagnosed with dyslexia. She held up with grace through the loss of a daughter. She visited AIDS patients before her husband made public policy about combating the disease.

Polls often found her as popular with most Americans, even as the political fortunes of her husband and son rose and fell. She was an in-demand speaker when her husband was chosen as President Ronald Reagan’s running mate in 1980, and in subsequent campaigns, as well as when George W. Bush ran for the presidency.

She championed what she believed in — civil rights and literacy — but wouldn’t speak her mind if it differed from the public stance of her husband.

She and President Bush 41 recently celebrated their 73rd anniversary. Given the fishbowl they’ve lived in for most of the past 40 years, the love they shared remains one for the ages.

Though she only let the world see the part of her she wanted, Mrs. Bush was true to herself, never going for the White House makeover when her husband was elected in 1988.

And she had a reputation for being quick-witted and able to turn a quip, even on her deathbed, where George W. Bush said she teased a doctor, “You want to know why George W. is the way he is? Because I drank and smoked when I was pregnant with him.”

She was a model of a modern first-lady, able to be both matronly, modern, thoughtful, tough and fun.

But most of all, she was a model of a code of conduct that we once expected of our leaders, that they be gentlemen and gentle-ladies, who put the nation before their own wants, without making leadership about themselves. Thus, it is no surprise to recall that she took President Donald Trump’s success to task because of the way he conducted himself during the campaign.

As a person who understood decorum and its place in civil leadership, it is no surprise that she is missed, in a bipartisan fashion.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)


Starting at $4.39/week.

Subscribe Today