Barbara Bush funeral: Thousands gather to mourn former first lady in Texas

The wife and mother of former presidents and literacy advocate died at the age of 92 earlier this week

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Saturday 21 April 2018 17:44 BST
Former first lady Barbara Bush dies aged 92

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Thousands of people gathered on Saturday to mourn the former first lady Barbara Bush in Houston, Texas.

Notably absent was President Donald Trump, but first lady Melania Trump was among the 1,500 invited guests who joined Ms Bush’s large family for a private, but televised, service at the St Martin’s Episcopal Church. The 90-minute service began at 11:00 local time [16:00 GMT].

Others in attendance included former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama as well as Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Ms Bush, who died at the age of 92 on Tuesday, had been married to the former president George HW Bush for 73 years and served as first lady from 1989 to 1993. She is survived by her sons former president George W Bush and former Florida governor Jeb Bush as well as children Dorothy, Neil, Marvin, brother Scott Pierce, former first lady Laura Bush, 17 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

The elder Mr Bush is “broken-hearted to lose his beloved Barbara, his wife of 73 years,” according to Jean Becker, chief of staff in the 93-year-old former president’s office. “He held her hand all day today and was at her side when she left this good earth,” Ms Becker said in a statement. Mourners joined in hymns as her other son Jeb and her friend Susan Baker, wife of former secretary of state James A Baker III, were chosen by Ms Bush herself to give eulogies.

“She was our teacher and role model on how to live a life of purpose and meaning,” Jeb Bush said of his mother.

Now wheelchair bound, the 41st president and daughter Dorothy had greeted thousands of public mourners the previous day filtering through the church. Ms Bush was in a covered coffin with large bunches of brightly coloured flowers adorning. On Saturday, a white cloth emblazoned with a large yellow and gold cross covered her.

Six of her granddaughters, including the younger president Bush’s twin daughters Barbara and Jenna, performed emotional readings from the Bible. Presidential historian and author Jon Meacham gave one of the eulogies as well and told a humorous story about the “candid and confident” Ms Bush.

Barbara Bush shuts down people shaming her for being the First Lady

“She was the first lady of the Greatest Generation,” Mr Meacham said, referring to Mr Bush’s service during World War II and Ms Bush’s time working in a factory at the time.

They “put country above party ... Good above political gain,” the author said about the debutante from Rye, New York, who began her life in rural Texas oil country with Mr Bush 70 years ago. What followed were 29 different homes in 17 different cities and several political campaigns of her husband and sons. She and the former president also lived in Beijing when Mr Bush was the head of the US Liaison Office in the mid-1970s.

Stories were also told about Ms Bush’s community service and her lifelong commitment to literacy issues in the US. She was also remembered for her embrace of a gay man infected with AIDS in 1989 at a Washington DC shelter.

Ms Bush was also known for refusing to colour her hair, often getting criticism for her personal appearance while Mr Bush was in the White House because she was such a contrast to her glamourous and fashion-conscious predecessor Nancy Reagan.

It is customary for sitting presidents to attend the funerals of former presidents but not necessarily deceased first ladies. Mr Obama did not attend the funeral of Nancy Reagan in 2016, while Ms Obama did. It is partially due to the amount of security measures required for sitting presidents that may be disruptive to the family of the deceased.

Former president Jimmy Carter, also 93, and wife Rosalynn were unable to make the journey. A spokeswoman said that Mr Carter would be on a private trip overseas while Ms Carter is recovering from recent surgery.

Mr Trump is currently at his golf club and resort Mar-a-Lago in Florida, where he has been all week. Ms Trump attended Saturday’s service “on behalf of the first family”, White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement. “To avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush Family and friends attending the service, Mr Trump will not attend.”

He did tweet his condolences, saying: “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!” He also tweeted a picture of her White House portrait.

Ms Bush was not a fan of Mr Trump’s, who ran against her son Jeb in the 2016 election and frequently resorted to personal attacks on her son – calling him “dumb as a rock” – and other opponents. Known for not mincing words in public comments, Ms Bush said she was “sick of him” and commented that “he’s said terrible things about women, terrible things about the military. I don’t understand why people are for him, for that reason”.

Ms Bush will be laid to rest on the grounds of the George HW Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, next to her daughter Pauline Robinson “Robin” Bush, who died of leukaemia at the age of 3 in 1953.

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