Posted on April 18, 2018
WVLT - Victor Ashe, Lamar Alexander remember Barbara Bush
By Erin Hatfield
April 18, 2028
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Victor Ashe remembers Barbara Bush as a quite perceptive person with a great sense of humor, who never hesitated to voice her views "in a slightly irreverent way."
The former Knoxville mayor and ambassador to Poland said his relationship with Bush, who died Tuesday at age 92, goes back 30 or 35 years. Ashe said his parents and her in-laws, Prescott and Dottie Bush, were good friends who all owned vacation homes in Hobe Sound, Florida.
"My father was a golfer and (Prescott Bush) was a golfer, so they played golf," Ashe recalled. "His wife, Dottie, was very active in the Presbyterian church, which my mother attended at that time. So they got to know each other through church work as well, and just stayed friends."
Ashe said he remembers one of the first time Barbara Bush came to Knoxville, just after former President George H.W. Bush had served as the American representative to China and Beijing.
"She had a beautiful photograph collection showing various groups of life in Beijing at that time," Ashe said. "She was here. Stayed at our house and gave a couple talks."
Ashe said Barbara Bush was a "delightful individual" and a strong advocate of literacy. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said she devoted her time as first lady to eradicating illiteracy throughout the country, and she was a big factor in the passage of the National Literacy Act of 1991 when he served as education secretary.
"She cared about her country, her family," Alexander said. "She was very inclusive. She wanted to welcome everyone regardless of their background, anything different about them; she always had big wide, open arms."
Alexander recalled a time he was walking out onto the South Lawn of the White House with President and Barbara Bush.
"It was a bright, sunny day to announce his school choice program, and he had the wrong pants on; they didn't fit his suit coat," Alexander recalled. "So she made him go back inside and change, and come back out while we waited on him."
The biggest thing Alexander said he took away from his time around Barbara Bush was her penchant for writing notes.
"She would write a hand-written thank you note several times a day to people she met during the day," Alexander said. "She did that her whole life.
"I've got a small stack of notes from Barbara Bush and from her husband, President Bush, that they wrote over the past 40 years for one small event or another."
Ashe spoke well of her time as first lady as well, saying that he believed she "made a difference during the four years she served in that position."
"She was an independent, free spirit and a strong anchor for the family, and really I think for our country," Alexander said.
According to Alexander, Barbara Bush helped her husband through his time in the White House and her two of her children, George W. and Jeb Bush, through their bids for presidency — only one of which was successful.
"It's pretty tough to be the spouse of a president of the U.S., with all the stuff that is said about a president," Alexander said. "So that was a lot for her to handle, but she was very important in doing that."
"(She was) only the second woman in America to the wife of one president and mother of another," Ashe said. "I think she was a major resource for her husband, and their 72 years of marriage is truly remarkable."
Barbara Pierce was just 19 years old when she married 20-year-old George H.W. Bush, Ashe said.
"They married at a young age and it worked," he added. "He'd just come back from World War II, having been shot down in the Pacific, and he hadn't yet been to college. So they were married, which was unusual for college students in those days — to be married and go through undergraduate work at the same time."
She and her husband moved to Midland, Texas, from Connecticut after college. Ashe said Midland was a small town with a "very different style of life" from what they were used to, but they were very successful there.
"He and she were very instrumental in building the Republican Party in Texas which, at the time they moved there, was almost non-existent," Ashe recalled.
Ashe also said Barbara had a great humor that, at times, was "slightly irreverent."
"Some would allege a tart tongue, but she did it on a very professional way," Ashe concluded.
Alexander called her a free spirit, and he recalled another story to highlight her humor.
"I remember sitting next to President and Mrs. Bush one time and he was called on to speak," Alexander said. "He leaned over and whispered to her, 'Barb, what should I talk about?' She said, 'About five minutes, George.' So she had a lot of good humor."
She also had a lot of good advice to give, too, and Alexander said her humor extended into her advice at times. He recalled a time when her son Jeb was considering a presidential run.
"Someone asked her about it and she said, 'I think there have been enough Bushes in the presidency,'" Alexander said.