Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Remembering Barbara Bush
TODAY, OUR NEWS IS A SAD REMINDER OF LIFE'S BREVITY. Even 92 years seemed too little for a woman who came to be, as she said, "everybody's grandmother." • • • "A former First Lady of the United States of America and relentless proponent of family literacy, Barbara Pierce Bush passed away Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at the age of 92," the statement from the office of her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, said. • She had been hospitalized multiple times throughout the year due to complications involving Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and congestive heart failure. In her final days, she had decided against seeking additional medical treatment and instead chose to focus on comfort care in her home in Houston. A family spokesman said President Bush was at his wife's side all day Tuesday, holding her hand -- he was "heartbroken." • Barbara Bush is survived by her husband, their five children -- including former President George W. Bush -- and her brother Scott Pierce, as well as 17 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. • • • We are reminded in the hundreds of obituaries being published, that Mrs. Bush was born in New York City of wealthy parents, that she met her future husband, the son of Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, when she was 16 and became engaged to him 18 months later. Barbara Bush was a crusader for literacy, calling it the “most important issue we have,” and founding the nonprofit Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. She said that if more people knew how to read and write, “we could be much closer to solving so many other problems that our country faces.” She participated in other causes as well, including those involving the homeless, AIDS, the elderly and school volunteer programs. The former first lady has said that people tended to like her because they know “I’m fair and I like children and I adore my husband.” She adored him through 73 years of marriage, making the Bush's the longest married couple of all American Presidents. Barbara Bush is only the second woman to have been both the wife and mother of a US President, qttrending both inaugurations. Abigail Adams, wife of the second US President, John Adams, died six years before her son John Quincy Adams was sworn into office. • • • We also remember Barbara Bush for her snowy white hair, her smile and laugh and her string of pearls. She was one of those rare people who, while normally attractive when young, in growing old, became a symbol of all that human beings hope for -- strength, joyfulness, determined success in helping others, and a beloved spouse and parent -- and her appearance rang out with those qualities. We may argue with the Bush family's role in the Republican Party and its commitment to conservative values, but we cannot argue with the encompassing grace, love, and common sense that emanated from Barbara Bush. • • • The Washington Post wrote about Barbara Bush on Wednesday, remembering her 1990 commencement speech at Wellesley College : "No president’s wife in a scholar’s robe ever sparked as much attention as Barbara Bush’s appearance before Wellesley’s Class of 1990. The three big networks carried the speech live, followed by the kind of commentary usually reserved for a State of the Union address. 'I believe it was the first, last and only time all three networks interrupted regular programming to cover a first lady’s speech live,' Edward McNally, a speechwriter in the Bush White House, recalled Tuesday, hours after Barbara Bush died at 92. 'It was an unusual national moment, to say the least.' What brought the media glare to an otherwise unremarkable cap-and-gown ceremony was a potent mix of feminist tension and Cold War politics. The invitation to Wellesley had been unremarkable....Bush had been a student at Smith, and speaking at another of the “Seven Sisters” women’s schools seemed a natural fit....But Wellesley would be different. Students there had voted to invite African American writer Alice Walker, who declined. After Bush was announced, some seniors complained. Bush may have been a Smithie, but she had dropped out at 19 to marry a patrician young Navy pilot named George H.W. Bush. Not quite the Wellesley way, 150 of them said in a petition protesting the choice. 'To honor Barbara Bush as a commencement speaker is to honor a woman who has gained recognition through the achievements of her husband, which contravenes what we have been taught over the last four years at Wellesley,' it read. The controversy grew. President Bush publicly defended his wife’s life choices. Pundits weighed in and Barbara Bush, who had never been a lightning rod, found herself at the center of a national debate about the nature of feminism that would continue for decades. 'I have no recollection that she had ever been protested before or since,' said McNally. 'It was a real one-off in her life.' When graduation day finally arrived on June 1, 1990, curiosity was sky high. Further, it was just seven months after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the date happened to coincide with a summit in Washington between President Bush and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s wife, Raisa, traveled with him. Wellesley, it was decided, would get not one first lady but two. They seemed to be in it together, according to the exhaustive coverage. They held hands, and Raisa, a former university teacher herself, reached out with reassuring touches as Bush spoke and the world watched. She wowed them. 'Barbara Bush’s speech to graduating seniors at Wellesley College in Massachusetts yesterday, aired on all the networks, was a rock’em-sock’em smash hit,' wrote Tom Shales, The Post’s TV critic. 'Clearly a victorious day for Barbara Bush,' said CNN. 'One of the best commencement speeches I’ve ever heard,' Tom Brokaw said at its conclusion."....At the end, she tiptoed up to controversy : 'And who knows? Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse …' But when she ended with this : '...and I wish him well,' they gave her a prolonged standing ovation....When she returned to the White House, staffers had strung a banner for her. It said, 'A job Wellesley done.' ” • Barbara Bush's Wellesley speech was ranked No. 47 on a list of the top speeches of the century in 1999. The list, compiled by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Texas A&M University, was based on a survey of scholars who ranked speeches by social and political impact and rhetorical artistry. • • • Here is the text of Barbara Bush"s June 1, 1990, Wellesley speech : "President Keohane, Mrs. Gorbachev, trustees, faculty, parents, and I should say, Julie Porter, class president, and certainly, my new best friend, Christine Bicknell. And of course, the class of 1990. I'm really thrilled to be here today, and very excited, as I know all of you must be, that Mrs. Gorbachev could join us. These are exciting times. They're exciting in Washington. And I had really looked forward to coming to Wellesley. I thought it was going to be fun. I never dreamt it would be this much fun. So, thank you for that. • More than 10 years ago, when I was invited here to talk about our experiences in the People's Republic of China, I was struck by both the natural beauty of your campus and the spirit of this place. Wellesley, you see, is not just a place, but an idea — an experiment in excellence in which diversity is not just tolerated, but is embraced. • The essence of this spirit was captured in a moving speech about tolerance given last year by a student body president of one of your sister colleges. She related the story by Robert Fulghum about a young pastor finding himself in charge of some very energetic children, hits upon a game called 'Giants, Wizards and Dwarfs.' 'You have to decide now,' the pastor instructed the children, 'which you are -- a giant, a wizard or a dwarf?' At that, a small girl tugging at his pants leg, asks, 'But where do the mermaids stand?' And the pastor tells her there are no mermaids. And she says, 'Oh yes there are. I am a mermaid.' • Now, this little girl knew what she was, and she was not about to give up on either her identity or the game. She intended to take her place wherever mermaids fit into the scheme of things. Where do the mermaids stand -- all of those who are different, those who do not fit the boxes and the pigeonholes? 'Answer that question,' wrote Fulghum, 'and you can build a school, a nation, or a whole world.' • As that very wise young woman said, 'Diversity, like anything worth having, requires effort.' Effort to learn about and respect difference, to be compassionate with one another, to cherish our own identity, and to accept unconditionally the same in others. You should all be very proud that this is the Wellesley spirit. • Now I know your first choice today was Alice Walker -- guess how I know? Known for 'The Color Purple.' Instead, you got me, known for the color of my hair! Alice Walker's book has a special resonance here. At Wellesley, each class is known by a special color. For four years, the class of '90 has worn the color purple. • Today, you meet on Severance Green to say goodbye to all of that, to begin a new and a very personal journey, to search for your own true colors. In the world that awaits you beyond the shores of Lake Waban, no one can say what your true colors will be. But this I do know: You have a first-class education from a first-class school, and so you need not, probably cannot live a paint- by-numbers life. • Decisions are not irrevocable, choices do come back, and as you set off from Wellesley, I hope many of you will consider making three very special choices. • The first is to believe in something larger than yourself, to get involved in some of the big ideas of our time. I chose literacy because I honestly believed 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. • And early on, I made another choice, which I hope you will make as well. Whether you are talking about education, career, or service, you are talking about life and life really must have joy. It's supposed to be fun. One of the reasons I made the most important decision of my life, to marry George Bush, is because he made me laugh. It's true, sometimes we laugh through our tears, but that shared laughter has been one of our strongest bonds. Find the joy in life because as Ferris Bueller said on his day off -- 'Life moves pretty fast and if you don't stop and look around once in a while you are going to miss it.' I am not going to tell George you clapped more for Ferris than you clapped for George. • The third choice that must not be missed is to cherish your human connections, your relationships with family and friends. For several years you've had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work, and of course that's true. But as important as your obligations as a doctor, a lawyer, a business leader will be, you are a human being first and those human connections with spouses, with children, with friends are the most important investment you will ever make. At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent. • We are in a transitional period right now -- fascinating and exhilarating times, learning to adjust to changes and the choices we -- men and women -- are facing. As an example, I remember what a friend said on hearing her husband complain to his buddies that he had to babysit. Quickly setting him straight, my friend told her husband that when it's your own kids, it's not called babysitting. Now, maybe we should adjust faster and maybe we should adjust slower. But whatever the era, whatever the times, one thing will never change : Fathers and mothers, if you have children, they must come first. You must read to your children and you must hug your children and you must love your children. Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens inside your house. • For over 50 years, it was said that the winner of Wellesley's annual hoop race would be the first to get married. Now they say the winner will be the first to become a CEO. Both of those stereotypes show too little tolerance for those who want to know where the mermaids stand. So, I want to offer a new legend. The winner of the hoop race will be the first to realize her dream -- not society's dreams -- her own personal dream. • Who knows? Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the President's spouse --- and I wish him well. • Well, the controversy ends here, but our conversation is only beginning, and a worthwhile conversation it has been. So, as you leave Wellesley today, take with you deep thanks for the courtesy and the honor you have shared with Mrs. Gorbachev and with me. Thank you. God bless you. And may your future be worthy of your dreams." • • • Good-bye, Mrs. Bush. We loved you. We grieve for your passing. We pray for your family in their enormous loss. And, we know that somewhere, right now, you are looking down and saying with a laugh, "What is all this fuss about." • It is about you, Barbara Bush, it is about you.