The untold truth of Barbara Bush

A fated first meeting at a dance in Greenwich, Conn. transformed Barbara Pierce Bush's life. She went from being a small town girl hailing from the city of Rye, N.Y. to setting the political trail on fire alongside her husband, former United States President George H. W. Bush.

After marrying in 1945, she went on to have six children, and while her husband was at the forefront of the political hemisphere, Bush was highly-respected as the linchpin of her brood. When she wasn't campaigning with her husband and her sons, 43rd President of the United States George W. Bush and former presidential candidate Jeb Bush, she could be found walking her dogs, voicing her views — even when they clashed with the Republican Party, unleashing witty banter, and devoting an ample amount of time to promoting literacy.

It was announced in April 2018 that Barbara was in failing health and had opted to stop seeking treatment, preferring to be cared for in her Houston home instead. A few days after that announcement, on April 17, 2018, the good-natured matriarch and widely-admired public figure passed away after battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure, CNN reported. 

"My dear mother has passed on at age 92. Laura, Barbara, Jenna, and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was," George W. said in an official statement.

In memoriam of "the enforcer" — as those who loved her affectionately called her — this is the untold truth of Barbara Bush.

She was a 'feisty little girl'

Her childhood friend described Barbara Bush as "a leader — a feisty little girl," in an October 1998 interview with The Journal News. That spunky and gutsy personality would remain with her throughout her adult years, although she was always rather charming. Her ability to connect with others on a deeper level during her tenure in the White House was unmatched, but she also managed to ruffle some feathers before and after her husband's presidency came to a close.

As a testament to how bold she really was, we'll never forget her November 2010 appearance on Larry King Live. When she was asked to share her opinion on Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and former vice president nominee for the Republican Party, Bush issued an eloquently shady response. "I sat next to her once, thought she was beautiful, and I think she's very happy in Alaska, and I hope she'll stay there," Bush said during the broadcast (via The Huffington Post). Feisty, indeed.

Love at first sight

At the age of 16, Barbara Bush attended a dance while on Christmas vacation and wound up meeting the love of her life, George H. W. Bush. 

"I fell in love with him practically at first sight, probably. Went home and told my mother about him. She should have been the head of the CIA. She knew everything about him the next morning. But he's just a — he's a very giving, he's never once said 'no' to me," she gushed (via CBS News).

Their love story is the thing fairy tales are made of, chock-full of innocence and young love that was sparked when he became the very first guy she ever kissed. "When I tell this to my children, they just about throw up," she told Time magazine in a 1989 interview. 

The couple became engaged a year and a half later, shortly before her husband enlisted in the Navy. When he returned home on leave from the military, they got married on Jan. 6, 1945.

Shortly before her death, Barbara provided an update on her health and her marriage to her alma matter, Smith College (although she failed to graduate — more on that later.) True to form, her update centered around the love of her life. "I am still old and still in love with the man I married 72 years ago," she told the college's quarterly magazine.  

An untimely death tested her marriage

After uprooting the family and settling down in Midland, Texas in 1953, Bush's 3-year-old daughter, Robin, complained about feeling tired, the former first lady recalled in her book, Barbara Bush: A Memoir (via The Washington Post). Robin was rushed to the pediatrician who later gave the family a harrowing diagnosis: leukemia.

"[The pediatrician's] advice was to tell no one, go home, forget that Robin was sick, make her as comfortable as we could, love her — and let her gently slip away," Bush wrote, but she refused to give in without a fight.

Robin was flown to New York and began treatment at a leading cancer center. After seven months of regular bone marrow tests and blood transfusions, the little girl succumbed to the cancer. "For one last time I combed her hair and held our precious little girl," Bush wrote.

Decades after Robin's death, Bush teamed up with USA Today reporter and author Susan Page to pen a new autobiography, and Page shed some light on how the devastating loss of their child tested the Bush's marriage, but ultimately, Robin's passing made the couple's relationship "stronger." 

Root, root, root for the home team!

After planting roots in the city of Houston, it wasn't uncommon to see the former first lady cheering on some of the city's professional sports teams, including Major League Baseball's Houston Astros and the National Football League's Houston Texans.

But the silver-haired beauty wasn't like the rest of us. She didn't just plop down in her seat with a bag of peanuts in one hand and hotdog in the other while enjoying the game. No, no, no. She was really involved, especially when it came to attending the Astros games alongside her husband. She was known to sit behind home plate and diligently keep score during almost every game she attended — although she and her husband would usually jet off after the seventh inning. Gotta beat that Houston traffic!

Even though she rarely showed her scorebook to anyone and wouldn't even allow it to be photographed, she did autograph one of her scoresheets from 2006, which is now displayed prominently in the baseball team's archives.

Her son, George W., later shared some insight into his mom's scorekeeping in the book Barbara Bush: Matriarch of a Dynasty (via the Houston Chronicle). "I played a lot of Little League, and I still have vivid memories of seeing her sitting at our games, keeping score," he said in the book. 

Second Lady FTW

During former U.S. President Ronald Reagan's two terms in office (1981-1989), George H. W. Bush was his right-hand man, also known as the vice president. When Reagan's second term came to an end, Bush successfully campaigned to become president, which simultaneously nudged his wife from the role of second lady to first lady. 

Barbara Bush's appearance and her self-deprecating sense of humor crushed the mold the first ladies prior to her had meticulously crafted — right down to her un-dyed gray hair, the soft creases in her skin, and her signature pearl necklaces that were constantly draped around her neck. Slay, honey.

During an interview with Parade magazine, Barbara recalled being first lady of the Free World "the second-best job in the country." So, what would the first-best job be? 

"Being the spouse of the vice president," she said jokingly. "Because nobody cares what the spouse of the V.P. says, so you can basically say anything. But as first lady, everyone pays attention to you."

Don't mess with Texas...or her loved ones

Being a fierce supporter of her loved ones and an over-protective matriarch to her family, Barbara Bush once stated, "Most people don't dare criticize my children in front of me. But the press, I don't pay any attention to. I just don't like it, but I don't pay any attention to it."

Her loyalty toward her family was evident during her time in the White House. Author Myra Gutin told C-Span, "When [Bush] came to the White House, she told her press secretary, Anna Perez, that there were three areas where you better keep hands off — her fella, her family, and her dogs."

USA Today went on to described her as "a fierce advocate for her husband and sons," while noting that even after her husband's presidency ended, she never wavered when it came to defending her kinfolk against "detractors."

An anonymous source told Vanity Fair, "But I always thought Mrs. Bush was the one who would kill you ... No one sat around and gossiped about Mrs. Bush. I don't think it was that people loved her; I think everyone was scared of her. It was just like when your mother said, 'I have eyes in the back of my head.'"

She was very competitive...or maybe not

As an ardent sports fan who blessed football enthusiasts with her presence as her husband tossed the coin at Super Bowl 51, you would never find Bush far away from the 50-yard line or a baseball diamond. So it's not so surprising that a sports lover like her also had the heart of a hard-nosed competitor. 

Her mother-in-law, the late Dorothy Walker, would reportedly hold family competitions with her children and grandchildren going head to head in a series of activities, ranging from "fishing to checkers to horseshoes," Vanity Fair reported. Walker even described Bush as "the most competitive living human."

However, Bush thought differently of herself when it came to being a cutthroat challenger in everyday life. "I'm not a competitive person," she once said (via Vanity Fair), "and I think women like me because they don't think I'm competitive, just nice."

Bonding over more tragedy

It wasn't until her son, George W. Bush, released his memoir, Decision Points, that a deep dark secret from the Bush family's past was revealed. Speaking with the Today show (via the Daily Beast), George W. recalled when his mother suffered a devastating miscarriage. While giving Barbara a ride to the hospital, she allegedly held up a jar containing the fetus' remains. "She says to her teenage kid, 'Here's a fetus,'" George W. recalled.

Barbara remembered the experience much differently, "I didn't put it in the jar ... Paula [the housekeeper] put it in the jar. And I was shocked when she gave it to him ... but, you know, memories dim a little bit but, anyway," she told CNN (via The Telegraph).

Whether it was Bush or the housekeeper who collected the remains, the entire ordeal "affected" George W., but there was a silver lining in the end. He said the moment helped them bond and brought mother and son even closer together. "The purpose of this story was really to show how my mom and I developed a relationship," he told the Today show.

Let's get physical

Even when she was well into her late 80s, the political maven took her health very seriously. When her alma mater asked her to share her secret to having a healthy life, Barbara Bush answered, "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!" 

What she failed to mention was how active she remained during the later years of her life, even after undergoing open heart surgery in 2009, when doctors replaced her aortic valve with a pig valve. But she was more than willing to dish out her exercise regimen to Parade magazine in 2012, citing her love for walking her dogs on the beach "once or twice" per day and revealing that she and her husband both had the same personal trainer who whipped them into shape three days a week.

College dropout-turned-first lady

After meeting her future husband at a dance, George H.W. Bush was promptly whisked away, having enlisted in the U.S. Navy to become a torpedo bomber pilot, according to the White House's official website. In his absence, Barbara Bush pursued her education at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., but she couldn't take her mind off of the man she referred to as "Poppy," who had stolen her heart.

When George H. W. returned home, their relationship picked up right where it had left off. She dropped out of college, and two weeks later, the couple were married.  

In 1989, Smith College awarded her with an honorary doctorate of humane letters for her commitment to promoting literacy and education, according to the Chicago Tribune. During her commencement speech, she said she had "absolutely no regrets" about her decision to leave school behind and begin her journey as a housewife and mother of one of America's most prominent political dynasties.

She raised more than $1 billion for charity

After her son, Neil Bush, was diagnosed with dyslexia, Barbara Bush chose promoting family literacy as one of her priorities during her tenure as first lady in the White House, eventually helping to pass the National Literacy Act in 1991

"I chose literacy because I honestly believe that if more people could read, write, and comprehend, we would be that much closer to solving so many of the problems that plague our nation and our society," she said (via CNN).

Upon leaving her D.C. digs, she continued her commitment to lending support to various cancer charities and her own Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy non-profit organization, which was launched in 1989. "Barbara Bush believed that every American should have the opportunity for education, no matter their age," her charity's mission statement reads. 

Through all of her efforts, she reportedly raised more than $1 billion for various causes following her husband's presidency. Her legacy as a doting wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, as well as her impact as a leader and her insurmountable devotion to public service means Barbara Bush, America's national treasure, will live on forever.