George H.W. Bush was at his wife Barbara’s side as she passed away in April, having held her hand all day until she died at their home in Houston.
And, just eight months after he bid farewell to his partner of nearly 80 years, openly shedding tears at her funeral, the 93-year-old former president passed away.
Both George and Barbara leave a lasting legacy thanks to their decades-long political career, and their extensive charity work.
As tributes poured in following the 93-year-old father-of-six’s death, it was the couple’s enduring love for one another that captured the hearts of those mourning their loss.
For nearly 80 years, the couple had been side-by-side, supporting one another through good times, and bad, facing spectacular triumphs and heartbreaking sadness together, be it political or personal.
‘Still in love with the man I married 72 years ago,’ Barbara said of her incredible relationship with George shortly before she passed away at their home in Houston on April 14.
The simple, yet poignant, statement is a testament to the couple’s incredible love story, which began at a Christmas dance in Connecticut when they were both teenagers, and went on to span nearly 80 years.
During that time, the couple had six children, including President George W Bush, and 14 grandkids, eventually becoming the longest-married couple in presidential history.
Not long after her death, the former president issued a short statement about his wife’s death, paying tribute to the ‘relentless proponent of family literacy’, a legacy that he paid tribute to at her funeral by wearing a pair of book-patterned socks.
The normally stoic George broke down in tears as his son Jeb Bush, the former Governor of Florida, read aloud one of the dozens of love letters he wrote to his late wife for a moving eulogy.
As family, friends, and political leaders both past and present paid public tribute to Barbara, her enduring love for her husband and her phenomenal devotion to her family were given due respect and praise by many.
Her grandson George P. Bush described her as a ‘top adviser and confidante’ to his grandfather, while President Donald Trump and his wife Melania spoke of Barbara’s ‘unfailing’ service to her country and family.
But it was Barbara herself who perhaps described it best, offering an intimate insight into her relationship with George in a romantic essay penned for her alma mater’s magazine, which was published just last month.
‘I am still old and still in love with the man I married 72 years ago,’ she wrote at the time, before later going on to say: ‘George Bush has given me the world. He is the best — thoughtful and loving.’
Sharing a tribute to her beloved grandmother on Instagram, Jenna Bush Hager said of Barbara’s marriage to George: ‘She adored my Gampy, the first man she ever kissed; their love story is so ingrained in the history of our family.’
When honoring their ‘remarkable’ rock-solid relationship on the Today show on Monday, the 36-year-old NBC correspondent had noted that Barbara was spending her final days by George’s side, ‘the man she’s loved for over 73 years’.
‘They are surrounded by family, but I think the fact that they’re together and that he still says, “I love you Barbie” every night is pretty remarkable,’ she added.
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 recalled of the moment 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 studying at Ashley Hall finishing school in Charleston, South Carolina, and was in the area on a Christmas vacation.
Clearly captivated by Barbara, George immediately struck up conversation with her, revealing in his autobiography that they actually sat out their first potential dance together because ‘he didn’t waltz’.
‘[We sat out] several more after that, talking and getting to know each other,’ he went on, before saying of their first night together: ‘It was a storybook meeting.’
When he returned to finish his education at Phillips Academy in Andover, she went back to school in Charleston, however it was just a matter of months before they had met each others’ parents.
While they were apart, George and Barbara kept up their long-distance romance by writing letters to one another – a tradition that grew when George went away to fight with the Navy in World War II in mid-1942, forcing them apart once again.
During his time in the Navy however, George proposed, and he and Barbara became officially engaged in August 1943, a fact that was celebrated in a letter to ‘My darling Bar’ from ‘Poppy’ just a few months later.
My Darling Bar, This should be a fairly easy letter to write,’ George began, going on to say that ‘it should be simple for me to tell you how desperately happy I was to open the paper and see the announcement of our engagement’.
‘But somehow I can’t possibly say all in a letter I should like to,’ he continued. ‘I love you, precious; with all my heart and to know that you love me means my life.
‘How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours some day. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you.
‘So the days go by, the time of our departure draws nearer. For a long time I have anxiously looked forward to the day when we would go abroad and set to sea.
‘It seemed that obtaining that goal would be all I could desire for some time, but, Bar, you have changed all that.’
Barbara, meanwhile, responded with her own heartfelt messages, admitting that she was ‘really excited’ about the prospect of their marriage, but also ‘scared to death too’.
She joked in one note: ‘If you hear a big noise up there, don’t worry, it’s just my knees knocking.’
Her fears were not entirely unwarranted; in 1944, her husband-to-be, who famously named three of his planes after his future bride, was shot down near the Japanese island of Chichi Jima. He was the only one out of nine airmen who escaped from their planes to evade capture by the Japanese.
Later reports revealed that those taken prisoner were tortured and beaten, before being beheaded or stabbed to death.
George, who was the Navy’s youngest aviator when he got his wings, was eventually rescued by a lifeguard submarine, and returned home at the end of that year, and married Barbara just a few weeks later, before he began his studies at Yale.
The couple tied the knot at the First Presbyterian Church in Rye, New York – Barbara’s hometown, before moving to Texas.
Here, while George turned his focus to making his mark on the oil industry, the couple also began growing their family, going on to have six children together: George W, Jeb, Neil, Marvn, Dorothy, and Robin, who tragically died from leukemia when she was just three years old, weeks before her fourth birthday.
In a 2012 interview with her granddaughter Jenna, Barbara opened up about the bitter heartache she felt at losing her child at such a young age.
‘I was combing her hair and holding her hand,’ she recalled on the Today segment. ‘I saw that little body, I saw her spirit go.’
She added of her daughter: ‘She was quiet and gentle, and she had lovely little blond curls.’
After Robin passed away, Barbara and George made the decision to donate her body for research, with the former first lady saying: ‘I think it made Gampy and me feel something good is coming out of this precious little life and today, almost nobody dies of leukemia.
‘What on earth could be better in the eyes of god than a hospital that saves children’s lives?’ before adding, ‘George and I do talk about it. Maybe more recently in the last two or three years than before.
‘We’re getting older, and – and robin to me is a joy. She’s like an angel to me; she’s not a sadness or a sorrow. Those little fat arms around my neck.’
Jenna revealed during the interview that her grandfather, who she refers to as ‘Gampy’, said that he had told her ‘he hopes when he passes away that is who he will see first’.
Barbara replied simply: ‘It is who he’ll see first.’
Although their marriage endured throughout, Barbara readily admitted that things were not always easy, particularly as her husband began making a move into politics, turning his attentions towards goals away from business.
In a speech in 1985, she recalled the stress of raising a family while married to a man whose ambitions carried him from the Texas oil fields to Congress and then into influential political positions that included ambassador to the United Nations, GOP chairman and CIA director.
‘This was a period, for me, of long days and short years,’ she said. ‘Of diapers, runny noses, earaches, more Little League games than you could believe possible, tonsils and those unscheduled races to the hospital emergency room, Sunday school and church, of hours of urging homework or short chubby arms around your neck and sticky kisses.’
Along the way, she said, there were also ‘bumpy moments – not many, but a few – of feeling that I’d never, ever be able to have fun again and coping with the feeling that George Bush, in his excitement of starting a small company and traveling around the world, was having a lot of fun’.
However, for George, Barbara remained his rock, and while there may have been ‘bumpy moments’, he seemed to remain forever grateful to have her by his side, even supporting her through a bout of depression in the mid-1970s.
In her autobiography, Barbara revealed that her condition became so severe, she sometimes feared she would deliberately crash her car, blaming her depression on hormonal changes and stress.
Although she added that she snapped out of it within a few months, she noted that her husband was a source of constant support throughout.
‘Night after night, George held me weeping in his arms while I tried to explain my feelings,’ she wrote. ‘I almost wonder why he didn’t leave me.’
But for George, it appears as though that was never an option.
‘You have given me joy that few men know,’ George wrote to his wife around this time in a letter that was published as part of a collection in 1999.
‘I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara’s husband,’ he added.
And Barbara certainly returned George’s devotion, supporting him unfailingly throughout his political career, remaining by his side as he rose through the ranks of the Republican party, eventually serving as Vice President for two terms to Ronald Reagan who he then succeeded as President.
While the publisher’s daughter and oilman’s wife could be caustic in private, her public image was that of self-sacrificing, supportive spouse who referred to her husband as her ‘hero’, serving as a vital right-hand woman to George during the many decades that the couple would spend working on politics.
Summing up her role as his first lady, Barbara explained in a 1992 television interview that, in the White House, ‘you need a friend, someone who loves you, who’s going to say, “You are great.'”
Ironically, Barbara’s uncoiffed, matronly appearance often provoked jokes that she looked more like the boyish president’s mother than his wife. Late-night comedians quipped that her bright white hair and pale features also imparted an uncanny resemblance to George Washington.
Regardless of the public perception, George remained ever grateful to have Barbara by his side, both during his presidential campaign, and his four years in the White House.
But while she served as perhaps his closest confidante, Barbara insisted she did not try to influence her husband’s politics, saying, ‘I don’t fool around with his office, and he doesn’t fool around with my household.’
She did however reveal in her 1994 autobiography that she disagreed with him on two issues: She supported legal abortion and opposed the sale of assault weapons.
‘I honestly felt, and still feel, the elected person’s opinion is the one the public has the right to know,’ she wrote.
Eight years after leaving the nation’s capital, Barbara stood by her husband yet again to watch the inauguration of a President George Bush; this time, their son George W. The couple returned four years later when he won a second term.
In recent years, the couple lead a much quieter life, spending time together at their home in Texas, and continuing to support one another through all manner of trials and tribulations, in sickness and in health.
Just last year, allegations surfaced that George, who for more than five years has used a wheelchair for mobility, inappropriately touched more than a half dozen women on their buttocks as they stood next to him to take photos.
Through his spokesman Jim McGrath, George issued repeated apologies ‘to anyone he has offended’.
‘George Bush simply does not have it in his heart to knowingly cause anyone distress,’ McGrath said.
Also last year, George and Barbara both wound up in the same Houston hospital – the former president with pneumonia; his wife with bronchitis.
However, in 2013, she told C-SPAN in an interview that they prayed together aloud each night adding that they would ‘sometimes fight over whose turn it is’.
In the same conversation, she said she didn’t fear death for herself or ‘my precious George’.
‘I know there is a great God, and I’m not worried,’ she said.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Charlie Lankston