Barbara Bush, the first lady whose plainspoken manner and utter lack of pretense made her more popular at times than her husband, President George H.W. Bush, died Tuesday, a family spokesman said. She was 92.
“What you see with me is what you get. I’m not running for president, George Bush is,” she said at the 1988 Republican National Convention, where her husband, then vice president, was nominated to succeed Ronald Reagan.
The Bushes, who were married Jan. 6, 1945, had the longest marriage of any presidential couple in American history. And Mrs. Bush was one of only two first ladies who had a child who was elected president. The other was Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams and mother of John Quincy Adams.
“I had the best job in America,” she wrote in a 1994 memoir describing her time in the White House. “Every single day was interesting, rewarding, and sometimes just plain fun.”
On Sunday, family spokesman Jim McGrath said the former first lady had decided to decline further medical treatment for health problems and focus instead on “comfort care” at home in Houston. She had been in the hospital recently for congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 2009, she had heart valve replacement surgery and had a long history of treatment for Graves’ disease, a thyroid condition.
“My dear mother has passed on at age 92. Laura, Barbara, Jenna, and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was,” George W. Bush said in a statement Tuesday. “Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions. To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I’m a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother. Our family will miss her dearly, and we thank you all for your prayers and good wishes.”
Funeral arrangements weren’t immediately released.
Mrs. Bush raised five children: George W., Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Dorothy. A sixth child, 3-year-old daughter Robin, died of leukemia in 1953.
In a speech in 1985, she recalled the stress of raising a family while married to a man whose ambitions carried him from the Texas oil fields to Congress and into influential political positions that included ambassador to the United Nations, GOP chairman and CIA director.
“This was a period, for me, of long days and short years,” she said, “of diapers, runny noses, earaches, more Little League games than you could believe possible, tonsils and those unscheduled races to the hospital emergency room, Sunday school and church, of hours of urging homework or short chubby arms around your neck and sticky kisses.”
Along the way, she said, there were also “bumpy moments, not many, but a few, of feeling that I’d never, ever be able to have fun again and coping with the feeling that George Bush, in his excitement of starting a small company and traveling around the world, was having a lot of fun.”
In 1990, Barbara Bush gave the commencement address at all-women Wellesley College. Some had protested her selection because she was prominent only through the achievements of her husband. Her speech that day was rated by a survey of scholars in 1999 as one of the top 100 speeches of the century.
“Cherish your human connections,” Mrs. Bush told graduates. “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, 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.”