Alexander: Barbara Bush was a Bright, Caring, Independent Lady

Posted on April 18, 2018

 

“Not many of us think how difficult it must be to be the spouse of a President of the United States – all that one goes through. But think how hard it must be to also be the mother of a President of the United States and the mother of another distinguished son who was governor of a large state and who ran for President of the United States.” 

You can watch his remarks here.

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2018 – United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today spoke on the Senate Floor about former First Lady Barbara Bush, calling her a “bright, caring, independent lady”.

Senator Alexander said, “Yesterday our country lost a bright, caring, independent lady, and my wife, Honey and I lost a good friend. … Barbara Bush was the anchor of her family and a very successful and remarkable family it was. I was Education Secretary for President Bush in 1991 when the National Literacy Act was enacted. And let's use Barbara’s own words to describe the event. You'll find them in her memoir. She wrote, ‘I must say, I got more credit than I deserved.’ I don't agree with that, but she continued. ‘I heard that George was going to give the pen to me but before he could, Senator Simon spoke up and said, ‘That pen ought to go to Barbara.’ So I donated it to the George Bush Presidential Library Center.’ In the end, however, Barbara Bush wrote, ‘It's not pens and pictures that count. It's the National Literacy Act that really counts. It was the first piece of legislation, and to date the only one ever enacted specifically for literacy, with the goal of ensuring that every American adult acquires the basic literacy skills necessary to achieve the greatest possible satisfaction, professionally and personally.’”

On May 5, 2017, Senator Alexander won the “Champion for Literacy Award” at the Barbara Bush Foundation National Celebration of Reading.

You can watch his remarks here and read a full transcript below.

Yesterday our country lost a bright, caring, independent lady, and my wife, Honey, and I lost a good friend. Barbara Bush set a wonderful example as a mom, wife, First Lady, and advocate for adult literacy. We express to the Bush family our sympathy and great respect for the life of Barbara Bush. 

Jon Meacham wrote the biography of George H.W. Bush, Barbara Bush's husband, to great acclaim. He had access to the diaries of President Bush and Barbara Bush that was almost unparalleled with any other presidential biographer's experience. So, it was a plain and unvarnished biography that told us a lot about those two individuals. I thought a better name for Jon Meacham’s book, it was named, "Destiny and Power," and it must have been properly named because it sold a lot, but a better name would be "The Last Gentleman.” And if I were to make a really accurate suggestion about the title of the book, I would call it, "The Last Gentleman and His Lady" or maybe, "The Last Gentleman and His Very Independent Lady” because Barbara Bush was a very independent lady. 

I remember it was 1991, it was a sunny day and we were walking on the South Lawn of the White House. I was the Education Secretary and I was walking with President and Mrs. Bush to the announcement of his G.I. Bill for Kids, which was his school choice program for low income children. As we walked along, Barbara Bush turned to President Bush and said, “George, you've got on the wrong pants.” He had his suit coat on from one suit and he had pants on from another suit. So she said to him, to the President, “You go on back in and change clothes and Lamar and I will wait here for you.” Which we did and he did.

On another occasion, President Bush invited my wife and me to join Barbara and the President at Ford’s Theater. And of course, presidents travel with great security and a big car. And so, as the protocol goes, he got out first. As she was about to get out, she said, “I'll get the door, George.” On still another occasion, I was sitting next to Barbara and George Bush, and the President was called on to make some remarks and he leaned over to his wife and said, “Barb, what should I talk about?” And she whispered back very loudly, “About five minutes, George.”

Barbara Bush was quite a woman. She said what she thought. When a second one of her sons decided to run for President, she was reported to have said, “I think we've had enough Bushes.” When I ran for President in 1999 against her other son, I made what I thought, and certainly by today's standards, some very mild comments disagreeing with him about something, and I heard from Barbara Bush about what I had said about her son, George W. Bush. 

Not many of us think how difficult it must be to be the spouse of a President of the United States – all that one goes through. But think how much harder it must be to also be the mother of a President of the United States and the mother of another distinguished son who was governor of a large state and who ran for President of the United States.

Barbara Bush was the anchor of her family, and a very successful and remarkable family it was. I was Education Secretary for President Bush in 1991 when the National Literacy Act was enacted. And let's use Barbara’s own words to describe the event. You'll find them in her memoir. She wrote, “I must say, I got more credit than I deserved.” I don't agree with that, but she continued. “I heard that George was going to give the pen to me but before he could, Senator Simon spoke up and said, ‘That pen ought to go to Barbara.’ so I donated it to the George Bush Presidential Library Center.” In the end, however, Barbara Bush wrote, “It's not pens and pictures that count. It's the National Literacy Act that really counts. It was the first piece of legislation, and to date the only one ever enacted specifically for literacy, with the goal of ensuring that every American adult acquires the basic literacy skills necessary to achieve the greatest possible satisfaction, professionally and personally.”

But Barbara wrote, “But even more than that, the act seeks to strengthen our nation by giving us more productive workers and informed citizens.” In his biography of President George H.W. Bush, Jon Meacham wrote of a generational controversy, in his words, that Barbara Bush endured in May of 1990.

She was invited to Wellesley College to speak at graduation and receive an honorary degree. But she was being criticized by Wellesley’s young women. Because, as President Bush put in his own diary -- and these are President Bush's words – “because she hasn't made it on her own, because she's where she is because she's her husband's wife. What's wrong with the fact that she's a good mother?” President Bush wrote in his diary. “A good wife, a great volunteer, a great leader for literacy and other fine causes? Nothing, but to listen to these elitist kids there is.”

Mrs. Bush invited Mrs. Gorbachev, who was visiting the White House, to go along with them. There, she confronted the issues of work and family and the role of women head-on, delivering a well-received commencement address. She put the audience at ease by saying early on that, “One day, I’m sure that someone in this audience will grow up to become a spouse of the President of the United States, and I wish him well,” she said. She also said, “Maybe we should adjust faster. Maybe we should adjust slower.” That is what she told the graduates. “But whatever the era, whatever the times, one thing will never change, fathers and mothers. If you have children, they must come first. You must read to your children, and you must hug your children, and you must love your children. Your success as a family – our success as a society – depends not on what happens in the White House, but what happens in your house.” Barbara Bush to the Wellesley graduates in 1990. 

The country is expressing to the Bush family, as I am trying to today, our great respect for Barbara Bush's life. President Bush, George H.W. Bush, has sent a response to those of us who have said our condolences, and I would like to close with the President's own words about his wife, Barbara. This is what George H.W. Bush said, “I always knew Barbara was the most beloved woman in the world. And in fact, I used to tease her that I had a complex about that fact. But the truth is, the outpouring of love and friendship being directed at the enforcer,” President Bush's words, “Is lifting us all up. We have faith she’s in heaven and we know life will go on as she would have it.” But, President Bush says, “So cross the Bushes off your worry list.” Barbara Bush. I thank the President. I yield the floor.

 

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