Barbara Bush was the wife of an American president and the mother of another, a distinction shared only with Abigail Adams, whose husband John and son John Quincy were America’s second and sixth presidents. Like Abigail Adams, Barbara Bush was a source of wisdom, nurture, and comfort to every member of her family. And like Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Bush suffered the anguish of outliving a daughter. For both women - I suspect, but can’t know – that experience must have been transformative. Today is Wednesday, April 18, 2018, and I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on the life of one of America’s most respected women; Mrs. Bush died yesterday at the age of ninety-two.
Like her husband, Barbara Bush was raised as a child of privilege. She was born in
Barbara Pierce Bush’s father was Marvin Pierce, who had served as president of the McCall Corporation, publisher of McCall’s and Redbook magazines. Her maternal grandfather was an Ohio Supreme Court Justice, and an even more notable kin was Franklin Pierce,America’s fourteenth president. At the time of her death, Barbara Bush had a personal net worth of about $25 million1.
Nelson Aldrich, Jr., a member of the extended Rockefeller family, has written that one of the great risks of being born into “old money” is a pervasive sense of personal futility2. Children of the rich, he says, can never do enough to “make a difference”, at least in their own minds. Whatever else one might say about the Barbara Bush family - that is an assertion that can’t withstand even a moment’s contemplation. Political opinions aside, the children of George and Barbara Bush have achieved quite a lot.
According to Aldrich, another assumption that many Americans make about the children of “old money” is that they are habitually arrogant. According to her own children, Barbara Bush frequently reminded them of their imperfections, albeit with humor. And, despite their wide-ranging successes (and failures) in life, they have all retained at least a decent public humility, along with the gift of being able to laugh at themselves. Ditto, her husband. She was known by her family as “the enforcer”. I like that; it’s familiar. Still, her children have a strong sense of pride in their family heritage, and I like that, too.
Typical of perceptions outside the Bush family, Bill Clinton said of Barbara Bush, “She had grace, grit, brains, and beauty.”3
My wife adored Barbara Bush, especially her classy advocacies on behalf of her husband and their children – never bitter, always witty.
I like that Mrs. Bush was an advocate for family reading; she established and supported the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Find it here:
Until next week, PATIENCE, DISCIPLINE, and CONFIDENCE in the FUTURE.
- Old Money: The Mythology of Wealth in America, Expanded Edition, Nelson Aldrich, Jr., Allworth Press, 1996.