Following a recent health battle, former first lady Barbara Bush has died at age 92. Over the years, Barbara was a steady presence in American public life, dedicating much of her time to charitable causes — particularly promoting universal literacy in the United States.
Barbara was born in 1925 in Manhattan, New York. She met George Bush when she was 16 years old, while he was a student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. The couple married in January 1945 and, over the years, had six children together. One of their children, Pauline, passed away at age three.
In 1966, George was elected to Congress and, from then on, Barbara worked for many years supporting her husband in his political ambitions while also championing her own causes. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president, with George as his vice president. Barbara became second lady of the United States, a role she would hold for eight years.
Barbara first became heavily involved in literacy issues while serving as second lady, beginning a legacy for which she would become very well known. Indeed, during her tenure as second lady, Barbara worked with a variety of literacy organizations as well as authored her own children's book, C. Fred's Story. She donated the proceeds from the book to literacy advocacy organizations.
Barbara believed strongly in the positive effects that universal literacy could have. Indeed, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation reported that she once said, “Most of our nation’s problems would be solved if every man, woman and child could read, write and comprehend.”
In 1988, George succeeded Reagan as president, making Barbara first lady. At that time, Barbara championed universal literacy as her official cause, eventually becoming known as the “First Lady of Literacy." In 1989, she helped found the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, a non-profit dedicated to helping parents and children develop reading skills. The foundation has dedicated over $50 million to developing or expanding family literacy programs in the United States.
As first lady, Barbara also regularly hosted a radio show called "Mrs. Bush's Story Time," that encouraged parents to read aloud to their children. She also published another children's book, Millie's Book, in 1992. Proceeds from this book raised around $1 million for literacy programs.
Barbara and her husband left the White House in 1993, though she remained highly dedicated to literacy causes. She continued her work with the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and also became an ambassador-at-large for AmeriCares. AmeriCares is a global disaster relief and health organization.
In 2013, Neil and Maria Bush, two of Barbara and George's children, formed the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, with the goal of continuing their mother's commitment to universal literacy in the Bush family's hometown.
Barbara's tireless dedication to championing literacy earned her a great deal of respect from colleagues and members of the public. Indeed, when it was revealed that she was in ill health earlier in April, many public figures spoke out to praise Barbara for her exemplary work.
For example, Sean Patrick Maloney, a U.S. Representative from New York, honored Barbara's lifetime commitment to helping others:
Barbara Bush was a graceful First Lady who has dedicated her life to improving education and promoting literacy. Our family wishes Barbara and the rest of the Bush family the best during this difficult time.
The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, also referred to Barbara as "an American icon and Texas legend." on April 15. On that same day, Dana Perino, George W. Bush's former press secretary, commended Barbara's strong character on Twitter, saying, "Barbara Bush has taught us all so much. Courageous, joyful, patriotic, faithful, charitable, studious, hilarious. There are not enough characters to describe her character."
Barbara leaves behind a steadfast commitment to improving literacy in the United States that will continue for many years to come. Her five living children, 14 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren will also carry on her memory and impressive legacy.