The following excerpt is taken from Barbara Bush’s Pearls of Wisdom and written by her son, Jeb Bush:
We could all use a good dose of Barbara Bush’s humor, her caring, and her plain-spoken wisdom. I say that as a totally biased son but am willing to wager that there are millions who would agree with that sentiment.
Barbara Pierce Bush is an American treasure.
As to what she has taught me, I would start with how to be a good parent. Mom has always had the firm belief that a successful life is defined first and foremost by loving your children with all of your heart and soul. How lucky we were to learn the habits that lead to a successful life from the best!
Mom did that. One of my earliest childhood memories is reading books chronicling the adventures of Babar the Elephant with her. Later it was Zelda the Zebra. I loved the pictures, and together we read those books hundreds of times—by which time I am sure Mom could recite each book from memory. Still, it was one of her first, and most important, gifts to me: the gift of reading.
The time she invested in us and the power of her example inspired me when my wife, Columba, and I were blessed with three wonderful children of our own.
Mom taught me plenty of other things as well. She taught me the importance of civility. She taught me not to take myself seriously. God help you if she ever caught you acting arrogant. You would get that Barbara Bush look and then you would be hit with her very quick and sharp wit that would put you in your place. Even today, when I am speaking to an audience, I feel her looming presence behind me whispering: Don’t brag. Don’t toot your own horn too loud. Don’t talk like a big shot.
Dad calls Mom “The Enforcer,” because she tends to be the one who has meted out discipline through the years. Like many parents, my mother’s style of discipline could often be fairly described as a benevolent dictatorship. But if you had really messed up, she could just as readily discard the benevolent part. Looking back, however, I have to confess the punishment usually fit the crime.
Long before I ever considered entering politics, Mom also taught us the importance of staying on message. If Mom ever gave you advice or corrected you, she was apt to repeat herself. On this front, my siblings and I challenged her patience on a regular basis. Still, hearing her impart the same pearl of wisdom repeatedly became the first known instance of a phenomenon today called “Bush fatigue.”
I suppose it would have helped things had we been faster learners, or better behaved.
Aside from family, Barbara Bush is the best friend to hundreds if not thousands of people. I imagine her time living in Washington taught her the true meaning of genuine friendship. Friends are with you through the good times and the bad ones too. She learned a lot about friendship after watching my sister Robin slip from their grasp at an innocent, early age. My parents will never forget the way their friends and neighbors in Midland rallied to their side.
Mom also taught us the importance of faith in God, but never in a preachy, showy kind of way. Again, it is in the consistent manner in which she has lived her life, reaching out to others, trying to leave this a better world than she found it.
Now, having said all of this, let me confide that Barbara Bush would be the first to tell you she is not
perfect. As president, my brother George got us both in trouble at a Florida event during which he teased Mom about her lack of total expertise in the kitchen. (Mom didn’t buy my explanation that I was laugh- ing just to be polite to the president of the United States.) More recently, I have learned that she can be somewhat deficient in explaining certain political endorsements!
But where Mom is totally wrong is in describing herself as the luckiest person in the world. That simply cannot be, because it is us “kids,” my siblings and I, who have been blessed beyond belief to have Barbara Pierce Bush raise us, and guide us, and instill in us a sense of values. Together with our father, she has given us the love and lessons we need to make our way in this complex and wonderful world.
First Lady Barbara Bush was famous for handing out advice. From friends and family to heads of state and Supreme Court justices, and certainly to her staff, her advice ranged from what to wear, what to say or not say, and how to live your life.
She especially loved visiting with students of all ages, from kindergartners to college graduates. When she turned 80, she owned up to all her advice-giving and explained it this way: After all, in 80 years of living, I have survived 6 children, 17 grandchildren, 6 wars, a book by Kitty Kelly, two presidents, two governors, big Election Day wins and big Election Day losses, and 61 years of marriage to a husband who keeps jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. So, it's just possible that along the way I've learned a thing or two.
At the end of the day, she taught all of us some valuable lessons. As First Lady, she made a point of cuddling a baby with AIDS and hugging a young man who was HIV positive and whose family had rejected him, showing us by example the importance of compassion and the myth of fear. As a mother, she made sure we all knew that your children must come first, and one of the most important things you can do is to read to them. As a friend and mentor, she showed that you had to be true to yourself, and even at the end of her life, she taught us how to die with grace.