Former First Lady Barbara Bush has passed away aged 92, a spokesman for the Bush family announced.
Bush, the wife of former President George H W Bush and mother of President George W Bush, had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure.
As First Lady from 1989-93, she was known for her work on early childhood education. In 1989, she established the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, with the goal of raising awareness about the importance of reading and writing at a young age. She was also recognised for her work on AIDs awareness and cancer research.
The Bushes celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in January, making them the longest-married couple in presidential history. Since leaving the White House, they had split their time between Houston and the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Her son, former President George W Bush, released a statement to the press on behalf of himself, his wife, and his twin daughters.
“My dear mother has passed away at age 92. Laura, Barbara, Jenna and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was. Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love and literacy to millions. To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I’m a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother. Our family will miss her dearly, and we thank you all for your prayers and good wishes.”
Bush is survived by her husband, her five living children, 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. A sixth child, daughter Robin, died at the age of three after being diagnosed with leukaemia.
Barbara married her husband in 1945 while George was home from the war on leave. Their first child – future President George Walker Bush – was born in 1946 and the family moved to Texas where George pursued a career in the oil industry.
By the time the Bush family settled into the White House for four years, they had lived in 29 different homes.
During her husband’s presidency, Barbara’s approval ratings often soared ahead of his, with the public viewing her as down-to-earth, straightforward and tough, and her frequent self-deprecating comments endeared her to voters. According to a 1992 Vanity Fair profile, her aides referred to her as “the National Treasure ... in sly tribute to the qualities that make her an awesome asset to her husband.”
She devoted her time to a variety of causes ― primarily literacy, but also AIDS awareness, homelessness and poverty. She pressed the American people to get involved with volunteer work and stressed the importance of volunteer programs in schools.
“Everybody has something, whether you have time or money or know-how or space,” she said in 1989. “The drug problem worries me’ or ‘crime worries me’ or ‘illiteracy worries me.’ If it worries you, then you’ve got to do something about it.”
One of the most high-profile moments of her time as first lady was a 1990 commencement speech at Wellesley College, the all-women school outside Boston. As The New York Times reported, some students protested the speech, arguing “she did not represent the type of career woman the college seeks to educate.” Despite the protests and a petition circulated among the students, she delivered her speech, urging the graduates to “believe in something larger than yourself” and to remember to make time for the important people in their lives.
“For several years, you’ve had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work, and, of course, that’s true,” she said. “But as important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer or business leader will be, you are a human being first, and those human connections ― with spouses, with children, with friends ― are the most important investments you will ever make.”
The Bushes returned to the campaign trail to support their oldest son’s successful quest for the presidency in 2000.
After George W. Bush’s tumultuous eight years in office, she was hesitant to get behind her son Jeb’s presidential ambitions. “We’ve had enough Bushes,” she said in 2013.
Nevertheless, when Jeb mounted his bid for the 2016 GOP nomination, Barbara was beside him. While Jeb’s campaign fell short, his mother did give him a jolt of press attention as he lagged in the polls.
She later waded into the 2016 race to criticise its eventual winner, Donald Trump, telling CNN she was “sick of” the businessman.