There have been few heroines in my life, but Barbara Pierce Bush is certainly one. Despite being born in New York, she was very much a Southern Belle, more a Steel Magnolia.  I identify with her voracious love of family and books, raising sons, her white hair, love of Springer Spaniels, her outspoken nature, Presbyterian faith, her approach to politics and incredible sense of humor. We both attended boarding school and believe in living life and laughing a lot.

As the wife of a vice-president who became president, and subsequently, the mother of a president, America enjoyed decades of Barbara Bush’s influence.  Hers was a household name. She was everyone’s adopted grandmother. What I admire most was her authenticity, frankness, and her promotion of literacy and READING – one of my favorite past times.

On my list of all-time favorite books is Barbara Bush: A Memoir, (1994).  Her candid nature barrels through in her hilarious stories of eating marshmallow cream from a jar, and her attempts to dye her naturally white hair. “People who worry about their hair all the time, frankly, are boring.”   I lost my autographed copy in our house fire, one of my most prized possessions. It was the very first item Ted replaced for me.

Interesting facts: Politics and reading were certainly in her DNA. She was a fourth cousin (4 times removed) of President Franklin Pierce, AND Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  She was a graduate of the boarding school Ashley Hall, Charleston, SC. A lady in pearls, her graduation (AP) photo is seen here.

Her stepmother, Willa, was a South Carolina painter who wed her widowed father in 1952. Mrs. Bush held 29 honorary degrees including one from the University of South Carolina, and South Carolina State College. 

Through the ’90’s, I attended numerous work retreats and conferences that began with icebreaker exercises meant to introduce and loosen up a room of participants. My favorite, Truth or Lie, had you introduce yourself to the group and give three ‘facts’ about yourself. One is true and the other two false. I always used these:

  1. I have an MBA degree.
  2. I have had lunch with Barbara Bush.
  3. I can play 6 musical instruments.

I do not have an MBA. I can play 5 musical instruments. Yes, technically, I had lunch with Barbara Bush. She was the guest speaker at a ticketed luncheon at a National SHRM Conference years ago, long before cell phones.  I remember her asking us not to take her photograph – not because of vanity but because the flashing bulbs hurt her eyes. I kept that ticket stub as proof of that watershed day. I JUST ADORED HER.

Deemed a “National Treasure,” Mrs. Bush left so many legacies to our nation, the most significant being the example of raising and nurturing a family. “To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there. I think togetherness is a very important ingredient to family life.”

Despite her FBI code name “Tranquility,” her family called her “The Enforcer.” Everyone towed the line. I love the story of her chastising her young granddaughters, Jenna and Barbara Bush Hager for ordering peanut butter sandwiches delivered to the White House bowling alley. She informed them that they were not staying in a hotel.

She ran the Bush compound, Walker’s Point at Kennebunkport, ME much the same way. When Ted and I moved into our lake home and our sons’ friends (including a fraternity) began to visit, I used Mrs. Bush’s idea for house rules.  She posted hers on the back of the six bedroom doors and girls’ dormitory room in the Main House pictured here.


Picnics should be planned early for the beach. (The Bushes employed a cook to prepare meals.)

Please pick up wet towels and use them twice.

Please be down for breakfast between 7 and 9 or no breakfast.

Mrs. Bush stated that the rules were broken all the time. So too, were mine. So much for TRANQUILITY for The Enforcers!

Mrs. Bush, may you rest in peace from a full life, well-lived as a leader of and servant to the United States as you live on in the hearts all you touched around the world.

~From the desk of Becky Morlok~


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