Former first lady Barbara Bush died on Tuesday at the age of 92. Her husband former President George H.W. Bush was at his wife’s side holding her hand when she passed. We can all only hope to be so lucky.
Their meet cute took place many years before at a Christmas dance. She was 16, and he was 17. In his memoir, George H.W. Bush wrote: “I’m not much at remembering what people wear, but that particular occasion stands out in my memory.”
After spotting Barbara—a publisher’s daughter from Rye, N.Y., who was attending the Ashley Hall School in Charleston, South Carolina—from across the room, he immediately asked a friend if he knew the girl in the green and red holiday dress. The friend introduced him to Barbara Pierce. “Since I didn’t waltz, we sat the dance out. And several more after that, talking and getting to know each other,” he went on.
They were engaged in August of 1943 and married on January 6, 1945 at the Rye Presbyterian Church. George H.W. Bush then went on to attend Yale, and afterward, they moved to Texas where he worked in the oil industry before entering politics.
The matriarch of the Bush family had six children, including George W. Bush, making her one of only two first ladies to also be a presidential mother. (If you’re interested in a little presidential trivia: The other was Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, the second president of the United States, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president.)
Her life at the top of a dynastic political family took her around the world and back again many times. In her memoir, Barbara wrote: [My husband and I have been] “the two luckiest people in the world, and when all of the dust is settled and the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends. We have been inordinately blessed, and we know that.”
It wasn’t always easy though. In 1953, they lost their daughter Robin to leukemia. Barbara details in her memoir how she cried for what felt like forever afterwards. She says George held her often as she tried to explain the roller coaster of emotions she was experiencing, and that occasionally she felt surprised that he never left her during this very difficult time.
A collection of George H.W. Bush’s love letters to his “Barbie” were released in 1999. In one he wrote: “You have given me joy that few men know. I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara’s husband.” And with those beautiful, sentimental words, we find our faith in humanity is restored.