As matriarch of one of America’s political dynasties, Barbara Pierce Bush, who was the wife and mother of presidents, an honor held by only one other first lady, was more than just the woman behind the powerful men in her family.
If Jackie Kennedy was about elegance and class and Nancy Reagan was about influence and control and Hillary Clinton was about smarts and ambition, Barbara Bush was a straight-on, nonsense first lady who did not suffer fools, pretense or personal vanities.
Bush didn’t let fame, wealth and privilege go to her head. America admired her for her honesty. She practically boasted that her trademark pearls were fake. Despite her public presence, she didn’t color her hair. A shock of white locks gave her a matronly look that she could puncture with a sharp tongue and devilish wit, especially during her husband’s unsuccessful reelection bid against Bill Clinton.
She had her own compass that consistently guided her toward grace and kept her grounded in reality. Two days before she died Tuesday, at 92, she told doctors to stop trying to save her life and just let her die in peace at her Houston home. That’s what’s she demanded. That was Barbara Bush.
A member of the Greatest Generation, Bush’s inner strength sustained not just her husband, President George H.W. Bush, but also her children, including Florida’s former Gov. Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush.
To the public, she was portrayed as the consummate homemaker and wife to her husband, who rose from Texas oilman to, in 1988, president. But there was no doubt that she was the real commander-in-chief of the Bush family.
After living through numerous political campaigns, she knew politics, too.
In fact, she may have tried to spare her son Jeb the humiliation of his 2016 presidential run. A year earlier, when asked if he should run for president, Bush responded: “The last thing this country needs is another Bush in the White House.” She later walked that back. And when Jeb took to the campaign trial, she was there, behind him all the way.
The only thing fake about Barbara Bush was that set of pearls.