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First Lady Barbara Bush is wife and mother to two presidents named George Bush. She is also a literacy advocate, popular speaker, and best-selling author.
Barbara Pierce was the daughter of Marvin Pierce, the publisher of McCall's magazine, and Pauline Robinson Pierce. She was not the first in her family to end up in public service; she was the granddaughter of an Ohio Supreme Court justice, and her father was distantly related to Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States. Growing up in the affluent suburb of Rye, N.Y., Barbara and her three siblings enjoyed many advantages. After public elementary school, “Bar,” as she was called, entered the private Rye Country Day School and then Ashley Hall, a private boarding school in Charleston, S.C., where she graduated in 1943.
While visiting home on Christmas vacation in 1941, Barbara met George Herbert Walker (“Poppy”) Bush. Their courtship proceeded in spite of the distance between their two schools, and they became engaged in 1943, just before George left to serve as a naval bomber pilot in the Pacific. He was shot down on Sept. 2, 1944, and for more than a month she did not hear from him. They married on Jan. 6, 1945, a date rescheduled to fit his leave. Not yet 20 years old, Barbara Bush was one of only a handful of first ladies to marry in her teens.
Several months after their marriage, when George resumed his college education at Yale, Barbara took a job at a campus store—the only time she held a paying job. Their first child, known as “George W.,” was born in July 1946. Two years later, after George graduated, the couple relocated to Texas in search of better economic opportunities, the first of many moves connected to George's business and political career. By the time she moved into the White House in 1989, Barbara counted that she had lived in 29 different homes.
The death of their four-year-old daughter, Pauline Robinson (“Robin”), from leukemia in 1953 caused the couple enormous grief. Rejecting the physician's advice to let her die peacefully, they sought aggressive treatment, only to see her die seven months later. Barbara often credited her husband and children—another son, John Ellis (“Jeb”), had been born just before Robin became ill—with helping her through that difficult time. It was during this period that her hair turned prematurely white.
Barbara spent most of the next two decades parenting. Because her husband's oil business frequently took him away from home, responsibility for raising George W. and Jeb, as well as three other children born between 1955 and 1959, fell to her. “This was a period for me,” she later said, “of long days and short years, of diapers, runny noses, earaches.”
In 1962 George Bush won his first political contest, becoming chairman of the Harris county Republican Party. After he won election to the House of Representatives four years later, Barbara began to acquire the skills required of a politician's spouse, including public speaking. His appointments, especially as ambassador to the United Nations (1971–73) and as envoy to China (1974–75), gave her additional opportunities to develop the management style that later served her in the White House. By the time George began his race for the 1980 Republican nomination for president, she was a seasoned campaigner and a popular speaker.
During the eight years of her husband's vice presidency (1981–89), Barbara campaigned to improve literacy. Motivated by
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