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Barbara Bush, Former First Lady And Literacy Advocate, Dies At 92

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News
Barbara Bush attends the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas with her husband, George H.W. Bush, and son George W. Bush on April 25 2013.

Barbara Pierce Bush, matriarch of the Bush family and former first lady of the United States, died Tuesday at 92.

"Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions," her son, former President George W. Bush, said in a statement. "To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end." 

Bush had recently been hospitalized with complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the family decided earlier this month to focus more on “comfort care.” Bush was a fixture in the White House  from 1981 through 1993 during her husband’s tenure first as vice president and later as president.

Bush married George H.W. Bush in 1945. In addition to George W. Bush, she was the mother of one-time presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Neil Bush, Marvin Bush and Dorothy “Doro” Bush Koch.

Her grandson, George P. Bush, said her entire life was focused on others. 

"For my grandfather, she was his top adviser and confidante. For her family, she was a steady, loving and guiding hand," he tweeted. "And for her country, she was an inspiration and an example for all."

As first lady, she chose to champion literacy as her signature advocacy issue, founding the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, a nonprofit that provides low-income families with access to literacy programs. Bush said she always made a habit of reading to all her children. The importance of that practice was cemented, she said, when it helped the family discover Neil’s dyslexia.

“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 or nation and our society,” Bush said at a 1990 commencement speech at">Wellesley College.

Known for her quick wit, she fully embraced her role as matriarch of the Bush family and was jokingly referred to by her granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager as “The Enforcer.”

NPR's Tovia Smith notes that her role as enforcer and matriarch extended to politics, namely when her sons campaigned for president. 

"Sometimes I just wanna give people a piece of my mind," she once quipped. "But of course, as George would say, 'Wouldn't be prudent!'"   When her second son, Jeb Bush, first considered running for president as had his father and brother, Barbara Bush demurred: "We've had enough Bushes," she said. But in 2015, when he jumped in, she changed her tune, and at 90 years old, she  hit the campaign trail to try to elect a third President Bush.

She continued to be actively involved with her foundation into the later years of her life, when, she said, her children "threw me out," she joked in a 2012 interview at the LBJ Library with Mark Updegrove. Bush served as honorary chair of the foundation and daughter Dorothy Bush Koch took over. 

Former President Bill Clinton called her "fierce" and "feisty."

"She showed us what an honest, vibrant, full life looks like," he tweeted.

President Donald Trump praised Bush's efforts to expand literacy, saying she was "an advocate of the American family."

"Amongst her greatest achievements was recognizing the importance of literacy as a fundamental family value that requires nurturing and protection," Trump said in a statement. "She will be long remembered for her strong devotion to country and family, both of which she served unfailingly well."

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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