On the Eve of Her Death, Barbara Bush Sipped Bourbon

Heartbroken family pays tribute to matriarch
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 18, 2018 4:03 AM CDT
Updated Apr 18, 2018 6:26 AM CDT
On Eve of Death, Barbara Bush Sipped Bourbon
In this Nov. 14, 1988, file photo, then-President-elect George HW Bush and his wife, Barbara, are shown during a morning beachfront news conference in Gulf Stream, Fla.   (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

The matriarch of the Bush family has died—but family associates say Barbara Bush was her irrepressible self until the very end. "Some of the recent emails indicate she is not quite ready to sign off. She’s answering all of her phone calls herself," family friend C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel to husband George HW Bush, told People hours before the 92-year-old died Tuesday. Another family friend told CBS reporter Jenna Gibson on Tuesday that although she was having difficulty breathing, Bush was "alert and was having conversations last night. She was also having a bourbon." A roundup of coverage:

  • First lady facts. Bush, who was born Barbara Pierce, was not only the wife of the 41st president and mother of the 43rd, she was a distant relative of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, USA Today reports in a look at lesser-known Barbara Bush facts.

  • "Heartbroken." Jean Becker, George HW Bush's chief of staff, says the former president is "heartbroken" at the death of his wife of 73 years, CBS reports. "He held her hand all day today and was by her side when she left this good earth," Becker said in a statement. "But it will not surprise all of you who know and love him, that he is also being stoic and strong, and is being lifted up by his large and supportive family."
  • Family tributes. As dignitaries mourned Bush, some of the most moving tributes came from a family that includes her husband, brother, five children, 17 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren, the New York Times reports. "My grandmother's entire life was focused on others," tweeted George P. Bush, son of Jeb Bush. "For my grandfather, she was his top adviser and confidante. For her family, she was a steady, loving, and guiding hand. And for her country, she was an inspiration and an example for all."
  • "Levity, love, and literacy." George W. Bush praised his mother as somebody who brought "levity, love, and literacy" to millions. He said she "kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end" and added: "I'm a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother. Our family will miss her dearly," the BBC reports.

  • A life to remember. The AP looks at things to remember about Bush's life, including her efforts to promote literacy among parents and children. The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, started during her White House years, has donated more than $40 million to more than 1,500 literacy programs nationwide.
  • The hardest death. The Washington Post reports that Bush, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said she had no fear of death—possibly because she had already faced the heartbreaking death of 3-year-old daughter Robin from leukemia in 1953. During the months Robin suffered with the disease, her 28-year-old mother's hair began to turn white. Bush, whose funeral will be in Houston on Saturday, will be laid to rest where Robin is buried, in a plot on the grounds of her husband's presidential library in College Station, Texas.
  • "Lifelong compassion." The death of her daughter left George and Barbara Bush with "lifelong compassion," according to her official White House biography, which notes that they met at a dance when Barbara was just 16.

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  • "As authentic as her pearls were fake." In a tribute at the Washington Post, Karen Tumulty praises Bush, known as the family's "enforcer," as someone whose life was the "definition of female empowerment." Her appeal, Tumulty writes, was in her plain-talking "comfort in who she was" after the "glamor and excess" of previous first lady Nancy Reagan.
  • Notable quotes. The AP lists some memorable quotes from Bush's 1994 autobiography, including: "A question I'm asked all the time: Did anyone tell you what to do, or give you any guidelines, when your husband was in government? The answer is no. Certainly I was given advice on protocol, and occasionally on what to wear or not to wear, but, for the most part, I just depended on the manners my mother taught me."
  • "Fierce and fiesty." In a tweet, Bill Clinton praised the wife of the man he defeated in the 1992 election as a "remarkable woman." "She had grit & grace, brains & beauty. She was fierce & feisty in support of her family & friends, her country & her causes. She showed us what an honest, vibrant, full life looks like," he said. The Houston Chronicle has tributes from more than a dozen other dignitaries in Texas and beyond.
  • Her legacy. Bush will remembered for the family's political dynasty and literacy efforts that include helping pass the National Literacy Act in 1991, though WMTW in Maine describe's Portland's Barbara Bush Children's Hospital as her greatest legacy of all. She said she was "excited and flattered" to have the hospital named after her in 1995 at the request of a $3 million donor, and read to children at the institution every summer.
(Read more Barbara Bush stories.)

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