2018-04-25 / Editorials

A grand old dame

Other Voices
Mitch Clarke

The pearls she famously wore may have been fake, but everything else about Barbara Bush was real, so it was easy to admire her, no matter on which side of the political aisle you stood.

She may have looked the part of the stereotypical grandmother, complete with the imitation pearl choker and the authentic snowy-white hair. But look deeper and you’d find a whole lot more.

She was a spitfire, what they called back in the day “a grand old dame.” She was genuine. She was smart. And she was outspoken, even during a time when women weren’t necessarily supposed to be smart and outspoken. And, though she came from an affluent background, she lived her life without an ounce of pretense.

Her 73-year love affair with George H.W. Bush was something from a fairy tale. They were hopelessly devoted to each other, still madly in love, and he was holding her hand when she died last week.

Barbara Bush brought her grandmotherly demeanor to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A complete departure from Nancy Reagan, she steered clear of policy decisions, choosing to spend much of her time doting on her grandchildren and her beloved springer spaniels, Ranger and Millie.

Still, she made her mark by working tirelessly for others, whether it be AIDS patients, the homeless or people who needed to learn to read. Promoting literacy was one of her life’s passions.

“Every single thing in this world would be better if more people could read, write and comprehend,” she said.

In 1990, when Wellesley College seniors protested the decision to make Barbara Bush the graduation speaker, she didn’t back down. She won them over with a stirring speech that included this zinger: “Somewhere out there in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse. I wish him well.”

And near the end of the speech, she offered this sage advice: “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or a parent.”

You may disagree with the Bush family’s politics, but you can’t deny they showed character matters in politics, a message we so dearly need today. Barbara Bush believed in good manners and in loving and helping people who needed it. She was strict with folks who didn’t tow that line. Her family referred to her, affectionately, as “The Enforcer.”

A couple of years ago, Jenna Bush Hager, one of her granddaughters, interviewed her Ganny for the “Today” show and asked her why she thought she had earned that nickname.

“It’s because I enforce,” she said with a wry smile. “You do something bad, I point it out to you.”

She leaves an amazing legacy. Her devotion to her family and to others is one we should all emulate. “Your success as a family … our success as a nation … depends not on what happens inside the White House, but on what happens inside your house.”

She left this life just like she lived it, with grace and wit and strength. Surely know- strength. Surely knowing the end was near, she chose to go home to be surrounded by the family that loved her rather than seek additional medical care in a cold, sterile hospital room. And the night before she died, surrounded by her family, she enjoyed a nice bourbon.

We should all be so lucky to have a life so well lived.

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