Former presidents and first ladies from both parties praised the life and legacy of Barbara Pierce Bush, the wife and mother of the only two living former Republican presidents.
“Our souls are settled because we know hers was,” George W. Bush says.
Political rivals of the Bush family—who include in varying degrees three of the past four presidents—had warm words for one of the more popular modern first ladies, who died Tuesday night at age 92.
“On this solemn day, we mourn the loss of Barbara Bush, an outstanding and memorable woman of character,” President Donald Trump said in a proclamation announcing that flags would be flown at half-staff in her honor.
She was the nation’s first lady from 1989 to 1993, but also in the public eye during George H.W. Bush’s eight years as vice president from 1981 through 1988.
“As a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, military spouse, and former First Lady, Mrs. Bush was an advocate of the American family,” said Trump, whose rivals during the 2016 Republican presidential primary included Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is the second of the Bushes’ four sons.
Mrs. Bush lived a life that reminds us always to cherish our relationships with friends, family, and all acquaintances. In the spirit of the memory of Mrs. Bush, may we always remember to be kind to one another and to put the care of others first.
In a separate statement unrelated to lowering the flag, Trump said, “Amongst her greatest achievements was recognizing the importance of literacy as a fundamental family value that requires nurturing and protection.”
The 41st president, George H.W. Bush, 93, was “brokenhearted” at the passing of his wife, according to his chief of staff, Jean Becker.
“He held her hand all day today and was at her side when [she] left this good earth,” Becker said in a written statement.
The current first lady, Melania Trump, also expressed her sympathies to the Bush family.
“Throughout her life, she put family and country above all else,” Melania Trump said in a formal statement. “Her dedicated service to the American people was matched only by her compassion and love of family. She was a woman of strength and we will always remember her for her most important roles of wife, mother, and first lady of the United States.”
A public event to allow Americans and others to pay their respects will be held from noon to midnight Friday at St. Martin’s Church in Houston, the Houston Chronicle reported. A private funeral service, by invitation only, is scheduled April 21.
Though former President Barack Obama never ran against a member of the Bush family, the Democrat’s critique of his Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush, was central to the 2008 campaign.
Nevertheless, Obama and this wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, honored the mother of the eldest Bush son for her service in a formal statement:
Barbara Bush was the rock of a family dedicated to public service, and our thoughts and prayers are with both Presidents Bush and the entire Bush family tonight. We’ll always be grateful to Mrs. Bush for the generosity she showed to us throughout our time in the White House, but we’re even more grateful for the way she lived her life—as a testament to the fact that public service is an important and noble calling; as an example of the humility and decency that reflects the very best of the American spirit.
She’ll be remembered for passing those American values on to her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren—and to the countless citizens whom she and George inspired to become ‘points of light’ in service to others.
One of George W. Bush’s two daughters is named after his mother. He said he and his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, and their daughters Barbara and Jenna were saddened by the passing of “my dear mother.”
But he added, “our souls are settled because we know hers was.”
The 43rd president added:
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. 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.
As her middle name indicates, Barbara Bush was also a distant relative of the 14th president, Franklin Pierce, a Democrat who served from 1853 to 1857.
“Despite her aristocratic origins, Mrs. Bush was unpretentious, and her country loved her for it,” Charlotte Hays, director of cultural programs for the conservative group Independent Women’s Forum, said in a statement. “She made no pretenses about her trademark fake pearls and delighted in the ‘America’s grandmother’ image conferred by her mane of white hair.”
She firmly believed that literacy was the key to solving many national problems and improving the lives of disadvantaged Americans. To that end, she established and worked hard for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.
She was essential to President George H. W. Bush’s career, both as a politician and a transplanted Texan building a career in the oil business, and exerted an important influence on President George W. Bush, who sometimes traced his outspokenness to his mother.
President Bill Clinton, the Democrat who defeated Barbara Bush’s husband in the 1992 presidential race, issued a statement along with his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The 42nd president noted the “grit and grace, brains and beauty” of Barbara Bush, and referenced a long relationship with the Bush family that predated the two men’s presidential contest because they first met when the elder George Bush was vice president:
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 [Arkansas] 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.
President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat who served as president from 1977 to 1981, said he and his wife Roslynn were saddened by the news. Carter unsuccessfully ran against the Bush family in 1980, losing to the Republican ticket of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“She touched the hearts of millions with her warmth, generosity, and keen wit,” Carter said in a formal statement. “The matriarch of a family dedicated to serving, she urged volunteerism as a way for all citizens to participate in our nation’s progress. Through her own work to promote literacy as a value in every American home, countless families now have the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in all aspects of their lives.”
Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, issued a statement expressing admiration for the former first lady and sympathy for the Bush family.
“Barbara Bush was a woman of unique strength and grace whose devotion to her family was an inspiration to every American,” the Pences said, adding:
Mrs. Bush’s example in public life and her encouragement made a lasting impact on our family, as it did on the families of millions of Americans, and she will be missed. We offer our deepest condolences to the entire Bush family during this difficult time and we will be praying for all who mourn the passing of this good and great woman. God bless Barbara Bush.