Presidential Mothers: Barbara Bush had an upbeat, positive influence

Published 12:48 am Saturday, July 8, 2023

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Editor’s Note: This is the last in the series about the mothers of our country’s Presidents, written by and based on the travel and research of Betty Etchison West. “I have not been to a site connected to the last three presidents and have not done enough research on any of the last three to continue the series. I appreciate so much all the kind remarks that you, the readers, have made about this series of articles and the others that I have done.

Barbara Pierce Bush was the second lady in the history of the United States of be the wife and the mother of a President.

She was the wife of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president who served 1989-1993 and mother or the 43rd president, George Walker Bush, who was elected eight years later and served from 2001-2008.

The only other lady in our country’s history to be both the wife of a president and the mother of a president was Abigail Adams.  She was the wife of the 2nd president, John Adams, who served from 1797-1801, and the mother of the 6th president, John Quincy Adams, who served from1825-1829.

There are similarities between Barbara Bush, who served as first lady in the late 20th century and Abigail Adams, who assumed that role late in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Abigail and Barbara were strong women, responsible for the care and training of their families because their husbands were away from home so much of the time on business: John Adams on government business and George H. W. Bush, on his business connected to oil exploration.

Both seemed to be able to handle the responsibilities of raising their children without the help of their husbands. Both were interested in government matters and were willing to voice their opinions: Abigail in the hundreds of letters she wrote to her husband and Barbara by speaking out on any matter about which she was concerned. Although there are other similarities, the rest of this article will be about Barbara Pierce Bush, the wife of George H. W. Bush and the mother of George W. Bush.

Barbara Pierce was born into a well-to-do family on June 8, 1925, in Rye, N.Y.  Her father, Marvin Pierce, was the head of the McCall Corp. Barbara went to public school for a few years and then to the private Rye Country Day School. She spent her last three high school years at Ashley Hall in Charleston, S.C.  During her Christmas break during her senior at Ashley, she went to a dance at the country club. It was there that she met a boy who was on break from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. His name was George Herbert Walker Bush. George asked someone to introduce his to the pretty girl who turned out to be Barbara Pierce.  It was a love-at-first-sight story. George and Barbara went back to their respective schools, but their minds seemed to be filled only with thoughts of each until they graduated.

George Bush graduated from Phillips Academy in June just about six months after Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and World War II had begun. Immediately after he graduated, George enlisted in the U.S. Navy and went for training as a naval pilot.  In the fall, Barbara enrolled in Smith College, but her mind was not on English, history, etc. but on the young man who was being trained at Chapel Hill, N.C.

Many years later, someone asked Barbara Bush what she majored in at Smith College.  She said, “George Bush.”

Barbara was invited to Kennebunkport, the family’s property in Massachusetts, to meet George’s family.  She was nervous, but the family accepted her and made her feel comfortable as soon as she arrived.  From that time on Barbara loved George’s mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, and really grew to feel closer to her than to her own mother.  Instead of trying to get the young lover to slow down, George’s mother took Barbara to visit George in Chapel Hill.

George finished his training and was to be shipped to the Pacific War zone.  George and Barbara had gotten engaged before he left for his overseas assignment. George and Barbara had gotten engaged before he left for his overseas assignment.

While in the Pacific War Zone, George was the pilot of a plane which was to bomb a certain target when his plane was hit by enemy fire. George completed his mission even though he knew his plane was going down. He was rescued from the cold water of the Pacific Ocean by a passing ship, and on that ship for some time before he got a leave.

When he finally got the leave, George hurried to Rye, N.Y. for a wedding, his wedding. George thought he would have to return to his duty in the Navy, but atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and the Japanese decided to surrender as did the Germans.  World War II was over. The thousands and thousands of young people who had served soon were able to return to their homes. Newlyweds, George and Barbara Bush, could get on their life together.

George was a man in a hurry. He enrolled in Yale University and took the heaviest course load possible.

While George was a student, baby boy, George Walker Bush, was born to him and Barbara at a hospital in Connecticut. The baby was named for his father and for his grandmother, who was a Walker.  Even though George W. Bush claims to be a Texan, he was actually born in Connecticut.

George Herbert Walker Bush was able to graduate from Yale in three years. Then, he was ready to seek his fortune, not in the New York financial world where he could have gotten help from his relatives, but in the oil fields of Texas.

George loaded up the Studebaker that he was given as a graduation gift and headed to Texas. The Bush family lived first in Odessa, but then moved to Midland, where George W. grew up.  It is hot and usually windy in Midland, which is so close to the oil fields that you can sometimes smell oil. The Bush family lived in a small cottage in a row of houses called “Easter egg row” because they were all painted pastel colors. Barbara and George were involved in everything in the community—civic and community organizations, the church, school activities.

When George was away on business, Barbara took care of her children needs; she also played catch with them, and disciplined them when that was needed. George and Barbara had three more sons and one daughter while they lived in Midland. The baby girl, Robin, got leukemia. They took her to Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, the hospital known to be the best for treating that disease, but Robin could not be cured. Robin died and was buried near the Bush home in Kennebunkport, the families’ summer home.

Barbara managed everything well except the death of her dear daughter, Robin. After Robin’s death, Barbara went into a deep depression which she could not seem to overcome. One day she heard George W. tell a friend that he could not come out and play because his mama was sad, and he needed to stay with her. Barbara decided then she had to find a way out of her depression.

The family moved to Houston. George sold his part of his oil business and decided to seek a political office. The rest the story concerning George H. W. Bush political success is history.

George W. who stayed in Midland, was a real party guy, “a good time Charlie” who had an oil business that he also was able to sell. He used the money from that sale to buy part of a professional baseball team. George W. also met a girl whose personality was totally opposite his. Her name was Laura Welch. She was a quiet, attractive librarian. Before long, George W. and Laura Welch were married.

George W. gave up his partying and headed in a different direction which he said was the result of a decision made while talking with Billy Graham, a friend of the Bush family. George finally sold his part of the professional ball team at a huge profit, and he with Laura’s approval decided to go into politics.

When George W. told his mother that he was going to run for the Governor of Texas against the popular Governor Richards, his mother told him not to run because he would lose. George had inherited determination from his mother or someone. Once he decided to run, there was no stopping him. Barbara became her son’s biggest cheerleader as she was in all the campaigns in which her husband and her sons were involved.

George W. not only won the governorship of Texas once but twice.  He then decided to run for President.  With her mother as chief cheerleader, he won not one term but two.

Barbara Bush wrote a book titled “Barbara Bush A Memoir.” She used the journals that she had kept as her husband moved from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to an Emissary to China, to chair of the Republican Party, to the Head of the CIA, to the office of Vice President for eight years, and President for four years.

Barbara met thousands and thousands of people in the United States and abroad as she traveled with her husband all over the world.

In her book, she spoke positively about everyone. It seemed that she never met anyone that she didn’t like, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. There were only three or four people mentioned in the 532 pages of that book that she didn’t like and those tended to be her husband’s political opponents. She and George finally even got to be good friends with Bill Clinton, the man who defeated George after he had served as President for one term.

Barbara Bush, the mother of a President of the United States and the wife of a United States President was a surely one of the kindest, most positive people ever to be First Lady as well as First Mother.   

Barbara Pierce Bush died on April 17, 2018, and was buried on the grounds of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library at College Station, Texas.  Her husband, George, died about seven months later on Nov. 30, 2018, and was buried beside his wife.  The body of their daughter, Robin, who died when she was 3, was moved from Maine and buried beside her parents.