Tuesday 23 October 2018

Former president Bush held wife Barbara's hand to the end

George W Bush is shown with his father, fellow future US President George HW Bush, and mother, future first lady Barbara Bush in 1955. Photo: Reuters
George W Bush is shown with his father, fellow future US President George HW Bush, and mother, future first lady Barbara Bush in 1955. Photo: Reuters

Phil Grey

The death of Barbara Bush at the age of 92 ends a relationship that began when she was 17 and her future husband 18.

The pair were married two years after their meeting at a Christmas dance and stayed together for 73 years, becoming the longest-married couple in presidential history.

"George Bush knows how I feel," Barbara Bush had said. "He is the hero ... he is my hero."

George HW Bush was at his wife's side when she died and had been holding her hand all day, according to Jean Becker, chief of staff at the former president's office in Houston. The couple's relationship was a true love story, which granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager described on Monday as "remarkable".

The former president "still says, 'I love you Barbie' every night", Ms Hager said on NBC's Today.

They had six children, including Ms Hager's father, former president George W Bush, making Barbara Bush one of only two first ladies to also be a presidential mother.

George HW Bush (93) has described the mother of their six children as "the mainstay, of course, the parent who was always there to help solve the daily problems and emergencies of teen and pre-teen life".

The former president was a naval aviator in training when they met.

"I'm not much at recalling what people wear, but that particular occasion stands out in my memory," he said in his autobiography.

The band was playing Glenn Miller tunes and he asked a friend from Rye, New York, if he knew the girl across the room in the green and red holiday dress.

The friend introduced him to Barbara Pierce, a publisher's daughter from Rye who was going to school in South Carolina.

The next song was a waltz.

"Since I didn't waltz, we sat the dance out. And several more after that, talking and getting to know each other," George HW Bush said. "It was a storybook meeting."

Within eight months, they were engaged in August 1943 and married on January 6 1945, four months after Mr Bush was shot down over the Pacific.

"You have given me joy that few men know," George Bush wrote to her, according to a collection of letters published in 1999.

Their marriage also endured more serious trials.

A daughter, Robin, died in 1953 of leukaemia just before she turned four.

Ms Bush recalled a bout of depression in the mid-1970s.

"Night after night, George held me weeping in his arms while I tried to explain my feelings," she said.

Irish Independent

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