‘A beautiful life’: America mourns Barbara Bush

Former first lady Barbara Bush, left, seen here with her son George W. Bush in 1992, has died at the age of 92
AFP

Washington (AFP) – Former president George W. Bush thanked his mother Barbara for her “beautiful life” as tributes poured in Wednesday for the much-loved political matriarch and one-time first lady following her death at the age of 92.

Long seen as the pillar of one of America’s most prominent families, as wife to the 41st US president and mother to the 43rd, Barbara Bush died at her home in Texas on Tuesday surrounded by her family.

“As a result of her soul being comforted on her deathbed, my soul is comforted,” George W. Bush told Fox Business. “It’s the end of a beautiful life.”

His father, the 93-year-old George H.W. Bush, was said by staff to be heart-broken to lose “his beloved Barbara,” his wife of more than seven decades. 

Known for her trademark faux pearls and tart-tongued comments about life in and out of Washington — but also her deep loyalty to family and self-deprecating humor — Barbara Bush was in many ways a figure more popular among ordinary Americans than her high-flying husband and sons.

Having undergone heart surgery in 2009, she was treated for years for Graves’ disease, a thyroid condition, and as her health failed in recent days, was moved into comfort care at her home in Houston.

She will be laid to rest in Texas after a memorial ceremony on Saturday in Houston to be attended by the first lady, Melania Trump.

President Donald Trump ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at all public buildings and military posts in Bush’s honor, as he paid tribute to her work to promote literacy — a cause she embraced during her time as first lady, from 1989 to 1993, and beyond.

George W. Bush and his wife Laura expressed their gratitude for the prayers and sympathies pouring in for his mother, who is survived by five children, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She lost a sixth child — a daughter — to leukemia as a toddler.

A hugely popular figure during and after her time in the White House, Bush made history as one of just two women to be wife and mother to two US presidents. Abigail Adams, who died in 1818, was the other.

Another son, Jeb Bush, served two terms as governor of Florida and ran for president himself in 2016.

“I’m exceptionally privileged to be the son of George Bush and the exceptionally gracious, gregarious, fun, funny, loving, tough, smart, graceful woman who was the force of nature known as Barbara Bush,” Jeb Bush wrote in tribute to his mother.

Barbara first met her husband-to-be at age 16 when she was a schoolgirl and he was a student at an elite Massachusetts preparatory school. They married in 1945 while he was on leave from wartime service.

She was her husband’s consummate companion and advisor as they traveled the world, moving multiple times as he rose from Texas oil man to congressman, US ambassador to the United Nations and envoy to China, director of the CIA and eventually to the vice presidency and the White House. 

But she made a point of avoiding direct involvement in politics, and the constant posturing that comes with it — gaining a reputation for toughness, wry humor and straight-speaking. 

“What you see with me is what you get,” she said at the 1988 Republican National Convention. “I’m not running for president; George Bush is.”

– ‘Force of nature’ –

Tributes poured in from across the political spectrum to honor her life.

“We’ll always be grateful to Mrs Bush for the generosity she showed to us throughout our time in the White House,” said Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.

“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.”

Bill Clinton, who succeeded Bush’s husband in office, described her as “a remarkable woman” who brought together “grit and grace, brains and beauty.”

“She was fierce and feisty in support of her family and friends, her country and her causes. She showed us what an honest, vibrant, full life looks like.”

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