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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Former US first lady Barbara Bush dies aged 92

The matriarch of the political dynasty passed away at home in Houston surrounded by her large family

US first lady Barbara Bush meets Diana, Princess of Wales, at the White House in Washington in 1990. AFP
US first lady Barbara Bush meets Diana, Princess of Wales, at the White House in Washington in 1990. AFP

Barbara Bush, the matriarch of a US political dynasty, died on Tuesday at her home in Houston, Texas, surrounded by her family and loved ones, according to a statement released by a Bush family spokesman.

Mrs Bush, 92, was known for her witty, strong and spirited personality. She is the first person since Abigail Adams to assume the title of first lady, to George H Bush between 1989 and 1993, and also be mother of another US president, George W Bush.

The ultimate cause of death was as a result of complications with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure. After series of hospitalisations this month, she declined further medical treatment and died in the comfort of the Bush home in the family’s adopted state of Texas.

Her husband and partner of 73 years – the longest-lasting marriage in presidential history – said in a statement shortly before she died that “it will not surprise those who know her that Barbara Bush has been a rock in the face of her failing health, worrying not for herself – thanks to her abiding faith – but for others. She is surrounded by a family she adores and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving.”

Her son George W Bush said that she “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 up on our toes and kept us laughing until the end.”

Tributes were paid to her by serving and former presidents and their families. US President Donald Trump released a statement praising “her strong devotion to country and family, both of which she served unfailingly well”.

The president's predecessor and his wife, Barack and Michelle Obama, remembered Mrs Bush as the “rock of a family dedicated to public service” and said she had lived her life “as a testament to the fact that public service is an important and noble calling; as an example of the humility and decency that reflects the very best of the American spirit”.

And Bill and Hillary Clinton, who took over in the White House after Barbara and George H Bush left in 1993, said that “she showed us what an honest, vibrant, full life looks like. We mourn her passing and bless her memory”.

Even to the very end, Mrs Bush kept her distinct sense of humour. Her granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager told NBC that her grandmother told her “not to believe everything she reads”, in response to reports on her ailing health.

“We are grateful for her,” Mrs Bush Hager said.

Born in New York on June 8, 1925, Barbara Pierce met George Bush at the age of 16 – he was 17 – at a school dance in 1941. They married in 1945 and moved to Texas, where Mr Bush started a career in oil business. From there, he entered politics, and Mrs Bush helped him craft a network of support, bringing her husband to the ultimate role in American politics as president in 1989, having been Ronald Reagan’s vice president for the preceding two terms.

As the 37th first lady of the United States, Mrs Bush focused on the issue of literacy. After leaving the White House, she raised more than a billion dollars for charities supporting this cause.

She is the mother of six children, 17 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Two of her sons ran for president, with George W Bush serving two terms between 2001 and 2009, while former governor of Florida Jeb Bush lost in the Republican primary in 2016.

Mrs Bush preferred a modest, simple way of life while at the White House. She frequently travelled in a small car or commercial jets as first lady. She also accompanied her husband to Saudi Arabia in 1990.

Her views on social issues were less conservative than many in the Republican party, including her own son, during her time. She reportedly believed that abortion and gay rights were personal matters and advocated that the party avoid taking a position on these issues in its platform.

“The personal things should be left out of, in my opinion, platforms and conventions,” she said in 1992, according to the Los Angeles Times.

She will be buried at George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station in Texas.