By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
The lady was a class act. In a sea of loud, silly, and shallow people, Barbara Bush stood like a lighthouse, radiating wisdom and grace. She demonstrated remarkable equanimity, regardless of circumstance. Blessed with razor sharp wit and a penchant for fun, she was nonetheless known to her family as “The Enforcer.” Candid, caring, committed, and tough, Mrs. Bush had a massive impact on everyone around her. She set the standards high and refused to indulge any twinge of narcissism in herself or others. It’s a testament to her character that everyone around her succeeded. She had the longest marriage (73 years) in American presidential history and was the mother of two governors, one of whom (George W. Bush) was also the 43rd president.
There were, however, those who bemoaned the notion that she was “only” a wife and mother. Those folks ended up looking foolish. Mrs. Bush had no misgivings about the value of family. She was fiercely loyal and protective, but she did have boundaries. When pestered by the media about her role in the political campaigns of family members, she quipped, “I’ll do anything to help. But I won’t dye my hair, change my wardrobe, or lose weight.”
The reality was that Barbara and George H.W. Bush, in the late 1950s, lost their three-year-old daughter, Robin, to leukemia. Barbara’s hair turned white shortly after that tragedy. She refused to hide her age, stress, or heartache by dyeing her hair. There was nothing coy, contrived, pretentious, or conniving about Mrs. Bush. She possessed a refreshing candor and confidence that come from authenticity. It was clear she had no interest in impressing or manipulating others. As was the case with Billy Graham, she said what she meant and she meant what she said. This surely must have perplexed the glitterati in Washington.
Historians will write about Mrs. Bush for years to come. She was a smart, gracious, strong, and virtuous woman. Countless children learned to read as a result of her efforts. No doubt her opinions influenced domestic and foreign policy behind the scenes. However, Mrs. Bush possessed an uncommon degree of humility, maturity, forgiveness, and forbearance that enabled her to rise above conflict and petty partisanship. As she once explained, “Politics is what we do. It’s not who we are.” Have we ever been in greater need of her example?