|Lived:||June 8, 1925—April 17, 2018 (aged 92)|
|Career:||First lady of the United States, 1989-1993|
Second lady of the United States, 1981-1989
Barbara Pierce Bush was the wife of the 41st president of the United States, George H. W. Bush, and was the first lady from 1989 to 1993.
Mrs. Bush was born in New York City, New York, on June 8, 1925, the third of four children. She worked, first at a Lord & Taylor department store in Greenwich, Connecticut, then at a nuts-and-bolts factory that provided supplies for the U.S. war effort. She met George Bush at a Christmas dance when she was just 16. When she began Smith College, Bush wrote that it opened her perceptions about the world: it was the first racially integrated school she attended. George Bush went off to war during World War II as a Navy torpedo bomber pilot, in which capacity he would fly 58 combat missions; he was nearly killed after being shot down on September 2, 1944. When he returned on leave, she dropped out of college. Two weeks later, on January 6, 1945, they married.
Mrs. Bush moved with her husband as he continued to train as a navy pilot with his squadron during World War II at three bases around the country. World War II ended while he was training with his new squadron, and accepted at Yale, they moved to New Haven, Connecticut. Mrs. Bush worked at the college campus store until giving birth to George W. Bush, her first child, in July of 1946.
Upon Mr. Bush's graduation, they relocated to Odessa, Texas and he entered the oil business. They then moved to Los Angeles, where he became a drilling-bit salesman and moved to numerous locations in the southern California area, including Whittier, a town then represented in Congress by Richard Nixon. They returned to Texas, settling in Midland in 1950, and shortly thereafter Mr. Bush co-founded his own oil development company that merged three years later with another company to form Zapata Oil. The death of their two-year old daughter Robin from leukemia in October, 1953, was a tragedy for the family, the stress from which led Mrs. Bush to support numerous leukemia and cancer research and treatment programs. Her son Neil's diagnosis with dyslexia began a lifelong interest in reading and literacy issues.
In 1959, the family moved to Houston, Texas, where Mr. Bush was elected Republican Party chairman of Harris County three years later. In 1964, Mrs. Bush participated in the first of a lifetime of political campaigns, an effort to elect her husband U.S. senator from Texas. Although he lost, it put the Bushes into the national spotlight. He was elected to Congress in 1966, and again two years later. Mr. Bush lost a second bid for the Senate in 1970, but President Richard Nixon named him ambassador to the United Nations, giving Mrs. Bush the opportunity to begin a lifetime of friendships and acquaintances among international political leaders. She had advised her husband against accepting Nixon's offer to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee because of the inevitable damage he would suffer by association as the Watergate scandal was burgeoning. Mrs. Bush disclosed her support for continuing the effort to have the Equal Rights Amendment ratified and her belief that the Supreme Court decision on the rights of women to terminate their pregnancies was a correct one, views also expressed by her husband. This put them somewhat at odds with the conservative wing of the party led by former California governor Ronald Reagan that was then eclipsing the moderate wing, with which the Bushes had been identified. Thus, when Bush accepted Reagan's offer to run as his vice president, he and Mrs. Bush had to sublimate their different views.
Although Mrs. Bush downplayed her part in her husband's political success and avoided public political positions while serving as first lady, she was a popular figure and politically savvy, and a sought-after speaker in both of her husband's vice presidential and presidential campaigns.
During her eight years as the wife of the vice president (1981 to 1989), Mrs. Bush took an active role in several literacy organizations and familiarized herself with many of the statistics, solutions and efforts being made to confront both child and adult illiteracy. She also traveled the world extensively with her husband on his official trips.
In 1988, Mr. Bush elected president of the United States. The hallmark of Mrs. Bush's tenure as first lady was her focused campaign to bring national attention to and help eradicate illiteracy in America. She was able to address many social problems that were unique to the era of her husband's presidency of the early 1990's, like homelessness, AIDS and teenage pregnancy. Although she assumed the traditional view of the Republican Party that social programs were best funded and administered by private charities and organizations rather than by the government, she was not averse to claiming government responsibility in some cases, once remarking at a center for homeless children, "forget about government cutbacks." She was further credited as being the inside advocate for the president's signing of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act and invited the first openly gay and lesbian citizens to the presidential signing ceremony. When she was diagnosed with Graves' disease, she publicly disclosed all details about her coping with the thyroid condition.
Mrs. Bush passed away on April 17, 2018.
Photo by Giulio Marcocchi, Getty Images.