A journalist who never formally met Barbara Bush, the former first lady who died Tuesday, once encountered her on a beach in Maine, walking her dog as he was walking his. What was she like? Unpretentious, tough, guarded, and sharp of mind and wit.
She was that rare public person — the same on the beach or the supermarket as on TV.
She knew who she was.
And she was herself to the end — declining medical treatment that would have bought her very little quality time, and wisecracking. Her son, the 43rd president, said, “She kept us laughing until the end.”
The rap on Mrs. Bush used to be that she was a fierce defender of her husband and sons, indeed, less forgiving than her menfolk. And she could be fierce, period. She didn’t much like the press, for example.
But that was only half the story. She possessed a mental toughness, innate to her character and honed by a varied life that came with its ups and downs. She’d been the wife of a fighter pilot, a businessman who sometimes failed, a congressman, a diplomat, a party chairman, a CIA director, a vice president, a president — amazingly, all one guy. She was the mother of a president, too. She lost a child.
She knew herself, in part, because she knew life.
For all her toughness, though, her children attest that from her they received unconditional love. What greater gift can a mother give?
She also had a willingness to admit error, take her licks, and move on. After she said that Geraldine Ferraro, who had attacked Mrs. Bush’s husband, was something that “rhymes with rich,” she called Ms. Ferraro to apologize and told the press corps “the poet laureate,” meaning herself, “has retired.”
Next to being the wife of a restless and exceptional man, and a mom, being first lady was her biggest and most important assignment. She called it “the best job in America.”
She did it as well as anyone has ever done it. She used the post to model steadfastness and class. And she used it as a platform to campaign for a higher rate of literacy in this country. That was her one and only issue. She actually worked on it and she continued to work on it after her husband left office.
Barbara Bush died at home, surrounded by family. She was 92, thoroughly at peace with herself and her life, and thoroughly admirable. There will not be another first lady like her, but any future FLOTUS would do well to emulate what she can.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.