Barbara Pierce Bush, the former first lady whose cloud of white hair and strands of fake pearls became her signature, died at her Houston home Tuesday after a long struggle with congestive heart failure and pulmonary disease. The down-to-earth matriarch, who could trace her ancestry to the Mayflower and saw both her husband and son win the White House, was 92.
“I am still old and still in love with the man I married 72 years ago,” the former first lady wrote in a note published this month in Smith College’s alumnae magazine, still showing her characteristic humor. “I have had great medical care and more operations than you would believe. I’m not sure God will recognize me; I have so many new body parts!”
Her death was announced by Jim McGrath, spokesman for former president George H.W. Bush.
A memorial service is expected to be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, a few blocks from the home she and George H.W. Bush built after he was defeated for re-election in 1992. Then a processional is planned to carry her body to the George Bush Presidential Library Center in College Station, on the campus of Texas A&M, where she will be laid to rest near the grave of a daughter, Robin.
Her husband, the nation’s 41st president, is now 93 years old and struggling with a Parkinson’s-like disease that has confined him to a wheelchair and made it difficult for him to speak. Son Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, is slated to deliver his mother’s eulogy.
Barbara Bush flinched at quips that she looked more like Bush’s mother than his wife. And she had to deal with rumors of her husband’s infidelity, which he denied. Soon after becoming first lady, she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. The thyroid disorder gave her double vision and led to painful complications that she shielded from public view but that plagued her for the rest of her life.
She was an avid needle-pointer — a hobby she picked up to survive endless political meetings when her husband was running for Harris County chairman — and an inveterate reader. For decades, from the time her husband became vice president, she made her cause battling adult literacy. The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, founded in 1989, stands as part of her legacy.
She is survived by 17 grandchildren, several of them involved in public service, and seven great-grandchildren. Her grandchildren include George P. Bush, now running for re-election as Texas land commissioner; Lauren Bush, a former model who founded a global food program called the FEED Project; and Pierce Bush, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star. Her namesake, Barbara Pierce Bush, is co-founder and president of the non-profit Global Health Corps.
SOURCE: USA TODAY