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The Matriarch

This is the first in my series of "Notable Relatives". In this series I will highlight famous (or infamous) individuals to whom I am related, although they may be a little further off my direct family tree. I will share a bit about them, as well as how we are related. Most of them you will know and recognize immediately; some you may not and I will tell you more about them.

To begin the series, I selected someone with whom I believe everyone is familiar. She was the wife of the 41st President of the United States, the mother of governors of two large states, one of which became the 43rd President. Abigail Adams was the only other woman who was the wife of one president and the mother of another. However, she did not live to see her son, John Quincy Adams elected. This woman is none other than Barbara Pierce Bush. She has been called "America's Grandmother," so she seems to be the perfect person to start the series this Mothers' Day.

Barbara Pierce was born on 8 June 1925 in the Manhattan borough of New York City. She grew up in Rye, New York. She was athletic and enjoyed swimming, tennis and bike riding.

When she was 16, she met George H. W. Bush at a dance during Christmas vacation. They became engaged 18 months later, just before he became a torpedo bomber pilot in the Navy during World War 2. He named three of his planes after her. They were married on 6 January 1945. "I married the first man I ever kissed," she would joke. "When I tell this to my kids they just about throw up."

In the first six years of their marriage they moved at least eleven times, first in the service living in Connecticut, Michigan, Maryland and Virginia. They then moved out West, into the oil business: from Odessa, Texas, to California, then back to Texas, where they settled in Midland. Over fourteen years Barbara had six children: George, Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy. For long periods Barbara managed the family alone, while her husband traveled for his career.

The greatest burden of Barbara’s young life, though, was the death of her second child, Robin, at the age of three from leukemia.

While living in the White House, the residence staff generally found her to be the friendliest and most easygoing of the First Ladies with whom they had dealt.

She was an advocate for family literacy and supported abortion access, LGBT rights, civil rights and AIDS awareness.

After leaving the White House, she returned to Houston. It was at that point, that she realized that she had not cooked in 12 years. She had difficulty driving a car on her own and would not drive far from home for a long time; her husband warned people to get out of the way if they saw her car.

During her long career in public life, Barbara Bush remained a witty and independent-minded bastion of support to her husband and son in the course of their presidencies.

Her historic 1990 speech to the graduating class of Wellesley College is listed in NPR's list of "Best Commencement Speeches, Ever."

Here is an excerpt from that speech:

Early on I made ... [a] choice which I hope you will make as well. Whether you are talking about education, career or service, you are talking about life ... and life really must have joy. It's supposed to be fun!

One of the reasons I made the most important decision of my life ... to marry George Bush ... is because he made me laugh. It's true, sometimes we've laughed through our tears ... but that shared laughter has been one of our strongest bonds. Find the joy in life, because as Ferris Bueller said on his day off ... "Life moves pretty fast. Ya don't stop and look around once in a while, ya gonna miss it!" (I am not going to tell George you clapped more for Ferris than you did for George.)

... [Another] choice that must not be missed is to cherish your human connections: your relationships with family and friends. For several years, you've had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work, and, of course, that's true. But as important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer or business leader will be, you are a human being first and those human connections --- with spouses, with children, with friends -- are the most important investments you will ever make.

At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.

She died at home in Houston, TX on 17 April 2018 at the age of 92. She was buried at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.

Look at all these cousins!

Here is how we are related:

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