Friends and loved ones of former first lady Barbara Bush gathered Saturday morning at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, to celebrate her life in a beautiful religious service. Mrs. Bush was first lady during her husband’s presidency, from 1989 to 1993, and also served as second lady from 1981 to 1989.
Barbara Bush was born on June 8, 1925, in New York City and died at age 92 in her Texas home, surrounded by her family. She and her husband, George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, were married for 73 years.
Former presidents Barack Obama; George W. Bush, her son; Bill Clinton; and her husband, George H.W. Bush, all attended the funeral, but President Donald Trump did not; he watched the service from the “southern White House,” Mar-a-Lago, where he is spending the weekend. First lady Melania Trump attended the service for the two of them; White House officials said the president would not attend “to avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush family and friends attending the service.”
Three other former first ladies, Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton, were also present to bid farewell to the iconic Mrs. Bush, she of the ever-present strand of pearls.
The 90-minute service had been pre-planned over a period of years, reported The New York Times. The former first lady hand-selected her three eulogists: author Jon Meacham, who wrote a biography of George H.W. Bush back in 2015; Susan Baker, a longtime friend and the wife of James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state; and son Jeb Bush. Invited guests included former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, actor Chuck Norris, broadcaster Brit Hume, and Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s former senior adviser and White House deputy chief of staff.
Author and historian Jon Meacham, the first eulogist of the three, related a funny story that he’d shared with the former first lady — and her reaction to it (see the video clips of his eulogy, above and below this section of text).
Once, when he was about to give a talk based on one of his books, a woman came up to him and told him, “I just admire you so much … You’ve meant a lot to me and my family. Would you wait here while I go buy a book and you can sign it?”
So Meacham waited, and the woman came back with the latest John Grisham novel.
Meacham said that when he told the first lady how that made him feel, Mrs. Bush retorted, “Well, how do you think John Grisham would feel? He’s a very handsome man!”
The author also called her “the first lady of the greatest generation.”
“Smart, strong, fun and feisty” is how her longtime friend Susan Garrett Baker described her.
“It was extraordinary how she managed their rambunctious household … At the same time, she fully participated in [her husband’s] amazing career,” Baker noted. Known for her wit, Susan Garrett Baker related that Mrs. Bush once said of her husband, “One thing I can say about George — he may not be able to keep a job, but he’s certainly not boring!”
Baker also called her “the secret sauce of this extraordinary family.” She went on to describe Mrs. Bush’s concerns about literacy — the first lady founded the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation — and the plight of the homeless as well.
“She was the gold standard of what it meant to be a friend … Bar’s beauty was evident in every day of her life,” she told those assembled.
She finished her remarks with, “We will see this good and faithful servant again one day.”
Heading to the Southern White House to watch the Funeral Service of Barbara Bush. First Lady Melania has arrived in Houston to pay our respects. Will be a beautiful day!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2018
The former first lady’s son Jeb Bush also stepped to the lectern, and shared what his mother most likely would have advised him in delivering his eulogy: “Jeb, keep it short, don’t drag this out … and don’t get weepy.”
Jeb Bush noted, “She was our teacher and role model on what it means to live a life of meaning.”
Bush said his mother ran what she liked to call a “benevolent dictatorship,” and joked, “But honestly, it wasn’t always benevolent.” He related how his own children always behaved better after spending some time with his mother.
“She was beautiful until the day she died,” he said of his mother, and choked up, despite her “imagined” advice.
“She was solid … stern but warm, [and] she had such resolve.”
Mrs. Bush was known widely for her expansive kindness and friendly, down-to-earth nature. Jean Purcell of Columbia, Maryland, met Mrs. Bush at the vice president’s residence for a women’s luncheon back in 1985.
“I was about third in line, and she was standing at the front door greeting everyone,” Purcell told LifeZette. “I looked at her and I said, ‘This is my first time being here’ — I was kind of nervous — and Barbara Bush just spread her arms wide and smiled at me, and said, ‘Well, take a look around!’ She was so welcoming.”
Purcell recalled that the first lady also asked her guests for a moment of silence to remember the military.
Country music star Lee Greenwood traveled the country with Barbara Bush and knew her for over 30 years. Lee penned the iconic song, “Proud to Be An American,” and he remembered that whenever Mrs. Bush met a service member, “She would shake hands, look them straight in the eye, and [say], ‘Thank you for your service.'”
“Someone said earlier this morning she was known as ‘Grace and Grit,'” said Greenwood on “Fox & Friends” early Saturday morning. “I love that. She was solid … stern but warm, [and] she had such resolve, even though she was so wonderfully warm with people. If you questioned her resolve, you would realize she was really meaning what she said.”
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Mrs. Bush leaves behind five living children, including former president George W. Bush, and Jeb Bush, the 43rd governor of Florida. The elder Bushes have 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Barbara will be laid to rest next to her daughter Robin at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.
Deirdre Reilly is a senior editor with LifeZette.