In watching the news coverage of Barbara Bush’s funeral last month, I was struck by a recurring theme. Bush lived her entire life with a sense of purpose. For a woman of her generation, this largely meant raising her children and supporting the business and political life of her husband.
As the First Lady of the greatest generation, as author and eulogizer John Meacham described her, she waited for word about her husband after his plane was shot down near a tiny Japanese Island. Bush, then 20 years old, was the sole survivor of his nine-member crew. He carried out his bombing mission before parachuting out of a burning plane.
Once married, they had six children but lost daughter Robin to leukemia at 3 years old. When Barbara Bush died last month, there were 14 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, including one born just days before her death.
She is only the second woman in U.S history who was both a spouse and a mother of a U.S President, the first being Abagail Adams, who was present at the founding.
Her son Jeb, former Governor of Florida said this when he eulogized his mother: standing at the lectern in St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Bush said, “As I stand here today to share a few words about my mom, I feel her looming presence behind me and I know exactly what she’s thinking right now: ‘Jeb keep it short, don’t drag this out. People have already heard enough remarks already. And most of all, don’t get weepy.’ ”
Bush kept it short, but did get weepy when he described his mother, who was famous for her grey hair that she never dyed, as “beautiful to the end”.
“Barbara Bush filled our lives with laughter and joy,” he went on. “And in the case of her family she was our teacher and role model on how to live a life of purpose and meaning.” If Barbara Bush was to be judged only by that standard, her life was remarkable. Though the Bush clan shunned the term dynasty, all the children and nearly all the grandchildren have embraced civic and charitable activism as a way of life.
Barbara Bush had one fundamental goal beyond her family: to address literacy in America. She believed fundamentally that people, young or old, that could not read or write, would not be able to participate in the great American Dream. Her foundation, which survives and thrives today, is the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. George H.W. Bush wore socks with books on them at her funeral to honor this legacy.
Most certainly, Barbara Bush was of a previous generation. In this, the year of the woman, it might be good to take some pause to honor the roles of mother and wife. Yes, women offer so much more, much more than men in most cases in many categories.
But this Mother’s Day, let us not ignore the tremendous purpose and meaning involved in supporting one’s own family. This is Barbara Bush’s legacy.
Michael Sarafa is Co-publisher of the Chaldean News.