George H.W. and Barbara Bush’s Amazing Love Story
The Bush’s 73-year-long marriage — the longest for any presidential couple in U.S. history— weathered war, politics, and the loss of a child.
Photo: Shepard Sherbell/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images
The Bush’s 73-year-long marriage — the longest for any presidential couple in U.S. history— weathered war, politics, and the loss of a child.
George H.W. and Barbara Bush met and fell in love as teenagers, then married during World War II. Over the course of their life together, the two experienced separations and loss, while maintaining their devotion to one another. “One of the reasons I made the most important decision of my life, to marry George Bush, is because he made me laugh,” Barbara said in 1990.
Barbara died on April 12, 2018, at the age of 92. George passed away less than eight months later on November 30 at age 94. They celebrated their 73rd anniversary in January 2018, marking a marriage that lasted longer than that of any other first couple in U.S. history.
George and Barbara met at a Christmas dance
The lasting love story began at a Christmas dance in Greenwich, Connecticut in December 1941. Then 17 years old, George became smitten with the girl wearing a green and red dress. He finagled an introduction and met 16-year-old Barbara Pierce. George and Barbara danced, then talked while sitting out a waltz.
In her 1994 memoir, Barbara recalled that she told her mother after the dance: “On this night I told her I’d met the nicest, cutest boy, named Poppy Bush” (Poppy was George’s nickname). George had equally positive things to say to his own mother, describing Barbara as “the niftiest girl at the dance.”
Barbara told George that she planned to go to another dance in her hometown of Rye, New York the next night, so he arranged to attend as well. Their first real date soon followed, but as Barbara attended Ashley Hall Private School in South Carolina and George was a student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, they mainly kept in touch by letters. In the spring, Barbara traveled to Andover for George’s senior prom and they shared a first (on-the-cheek) kiss that night.
George and Barbara Bush on an airplane in October 1971
Photo: Leonard McCombe/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Image
Barbara waited for George while he was fighting in World War II
Barbara and George had met weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II. George felt called to join the fight. After his graduation from Andover and his 18th birthday in June 1942, he was sworn into the Navy. He and Barbara shared their first real kiss before he headed to basic training in the summer, but a long separation followed.
As he trained to become a naval aviator, George worried Barbara’s interest in him might wane. In the spring of 1943, he wrote to his mother, “I know that there is such a chance of her meeting some other guy. She is so very young and so darn attractive.” But he needn’t have worried — their love endured, bolstered by a series of letters (Barbara also sent George some socks she’d made). When he was on leave from the Navy in the summer of 1943, the couple got engaged.
After returning to duty, in between piloting torpedo bombers that he’d name after Barbara, George penned letters to his “Darling Bar.” “I love you precious with all my heart and to know that you love me, means my life,” he wrote in a December 1943 letter. In September 1944, he was shot down over the Pacific. He spent hours in the water before being rescued by a submarine. On Christmas Eve, George returned home on leave and he and Barbara married on January 6, 1945, a little over three years after they’d first met.
The Bushes suffered a devastating Loss
George didn’t have to deploy again before World War II came to an end. Instead, he and Barbara joined many other young couples who were restarting their lives after the war. Having left Smith College to marry — a decision she would face some public criticism for in the future, but never regretted — Barbara accompanied her husband to New Haven so he could attend Yale University. They next moved to Texas where George decided to pursue a career in the oil industry.
George and Barbara began to expand their family. They had their son, future president George W. Bush in 1946, followed by daughter Pauline Robinson Bush, nicknamed Robin, in 1949. In 1953, the couple learned three-year-old Robin had leukemia. Though they had the resources and connections to take her to a hospital in New York City, treatment options were limited. Their daughter passed away eight months after her diagnosis.
The loss naturally devastated George and Barbara. Barbara once explained, “George held me tight and wouldn’t let me go. You know, 70 percent of the people who lose children get divorced because one doesn’t talk to the other. He did not allow that.” Their second son, Jeb (John Ellis Bush), was born in 1953 and they would have three more children: Neil Mallon (born in 1955), Marvin Pierce (born in 1956) and Dorothy Walker (born in 1959).
The Bush Family
Photo: David Valdez/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Barbara stood by George’s side during his presidential campaign
After entering politics, George spent time in Congress, became ambassador to the United Nations, had a posting in China, and served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency before becoming Ronald Reagan’s vice president. During George’s successful run for the presidency in 1988, Barbara was at his side, offering humor on the campaign trail and speaking on his behalf at the 1988 Republican National Party Convention.
The support went both ways. When Barbara suffered from depression in the 1970s, she later recalled, “Night after night George held me weeping in his arms while I tried to explain my feelings.”
George told Barbara, ‘I Love You, Barbie,’ every night
Growing older didn’t dim George and Barbara’s affection for one another. At a football game in Houston in 2014, they performed for the “kiss cam.” And in the spring 2018 edition of her alumnae magazine, Barbara wrote, “I am still old and still in love with the man I married 72 years ago.”
During Barbara’s final days, George, as he did throughout their marriage, told her, “‘I love you Barbie,” every night. When she passed away at home on April 17, 2018, her husband was by her side. George died on November 30, less than eight months after Barbara. In his eulogy for his mother, Jeb Bush remembered his parents’ remarkable marriage, saying, “Our family has had a front-row seat for the most amazing love story.”
From historical figures to present-day celebrities, Sara Kettler loves to write about people who’ve led fascinating lives.
The Truth About Barbara And Jenna Bush’s Relationship
Born on November 25, 1981, twins Jenna and Barbara Bush have experienced a life unlike any other. Though they were raised in Texas, the Bush twins had a national spotlight thrust upon them at an early age thanks to the political career of their grandfather, Former President George H. W. Bush. In 2001, that spotlight became even brighter when their father, George W. Bush, became the 43rd President of the United States.
Despite the rare circumstances surrounding their lives, both Jenna and Barbara Bush have managed to maintain a sense of normalcy, each giving off the vibe that they could easily be your BFF or cool, older sister. Though they’ve certainly experienced stress and scrutiny surrounding their father’s presidency and their own choices as college students trying to get away from it all, the Bush twins have adapted well to life as former first kids. And according to the twins themselves, they have each other to thank for that. Here’s the truth about Barbara and Jenna Bush’s relationship.
“We have our own, unspoken language”
If you weren’t lucky enough to be born a twin, you’ve probably held out hope for some time that you’d meet your long-lost twin at a sleepaway summer camp, in total Parent Trap style. Unfortunately, having a twin is simply not in the cards for the majority of folks. Luckily, we can live vicariously through Jenna and Barbara Bush, who never hold back their enthusiasm for one another. In an essay for Vanity Fair‘s “Sisters” issue, Barbara Bush reflected on her childhood with her twin sister and how their relationship has evolved and strengthened even more in their adult years. Referring to Jenna as her “point of reference,” Barbara writes, “What a magical idea the universe had in giving each of us the luxury of a partner.”
Perhaps the best thing about having a twin is the ability to communicate with one another without using a single word. “We have our own, unspoken language,” writes Barbara. “A look that makes one of us fall on the floor laughing or the slight inflection in our voice that conveys everything.”
The two could not be more different
Jenna and Barbara Bush are fraternal twins, meaning they don’t share the same DNA like identical twins do. And however close they may be, it’s pretty obvious that the Bush sisters are two individuals who could not differ more from one another — both in looks and in personality. For starters, Jenna Bush (now Jenna Bush Hager) is the more well-known twin, thanks to her career in the public eye as a correspondent for Today. The bubbly blonde and loving mother of two doesn’t shy away from the camera, and can often be seen interviewing A-list celebrities and covering red carpet events for work. Barbara, on the other hand, is famously more reserved, rarely making televised appearances. Her friend, Derek Blasberg, told ELLE that Barbara is often unable to attend “glamorous parties” because she’s busy doing charity work in places like Botswana and Tanzania.
The twins also differ in their political stances. Barbara is an outspoken advocate for gay marriage and women’s reproductive rights, while Jenna has skirted around those topics. But no matter their differences, these twins are still super close.
Getting used to the White House
Jenna and Barbara Bush had a unique adolescent experience. After all, not many kids can say their grandfather and father are both former presidents. The rarity of their experience is not lost on the Bush twins, though they’re quick to set the record straight if anyone thinks they were raised with a sense of entitlement. In the book, Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life – co-authored by the twins and released in 2017 — Jenna Bush recounts one of the girls’ first visits to the White House shortly after their grandfather, George H. W. Bush, had started his presidential term (via the New York Times). Comparing her sister and herself to Eloise at the Plaza, Jenna writes that the sisters’ first order of business was exploring the White House bowling alley and phoning the staff to request peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
However, instead of sandwiches, the twins got a stern talking-to from their grandmother, Barbara Bush. “[She] told us in no uncertain terms that we were not in a hotel, but temporary guests in a historic home, and we were never to do that again,” writes Jenna.
Ganging up on Mom
Having a twin sibling — or a sibling of any sort, really — often means having a built-in best friend for life. This sentiment is not lost on Jenna and Barbara Bush, who never hesitate to express their gratefulness for the other, both presently and while growing up. “We have always had a dinner partner, a dance partner, a partner in mischief,” Barbara Bush writes in Vanity Fair.
However, in an interview with Maria Shriver for Architects for Change, the twins revealed that their mother, Laura Bush, who was raised an only child, has always felt a little left out of their airtight bond. While recounting a story of her own children playfully “ganging up” and disobeying her during bath time, Jenna Bush said she realized that she and Barbara would often do the same thing to their mother when they were young. And while being a mother was “all she ever wanted,” Laura Bush sometimes still feels “left out with the girls.”
They just wanted to be regular college students
As the Bush twins quickly learned during their father’s presidency, when every person in America knows who you are, it’s nearly impossible to live a life of relative normalcy. Both Jenna and Barbara, who attended the University of Texas and Yale, respectively, found themselves unable to enjoy the normal college experience due to all eyes closely watching their every move.
According to the Yale newspaper (via The Guardian), Barbara Bush once eluded her secret service team while on a road trip, and reports surfaced that she attended an “exotic dance party” wearing nothing but bubble wrap. Jenna Bush was cited for alcohol possession when she was 19 years old, and tried to order a margarita only a month later using a fake I.D. According to biographer Ronald Kessler (via E! News), Jenna started crying when the cops arrived, telling them they had “no idea what it was like to not be able to just act like a regular college student.”
They relate to Sasha and Malia
While growing up in the White House may sound appealing to some (after all, it does have that bowling alley), it’s easy for the general public to look past the challenges that come with being the children of a president. No one understands what the “first kid” experience is like but those who have been there. So, who better to send comforting words to former President Barack Obama’s children, Malia and Sasha Obama, than Jenna and Barbara Bush?
In January 2017, days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Bush twins published a letter in Time addressed to the Obama girls, offering kind words and advice on how to handle life after the White House. While acknowledging there are “no guidelines” on how to navigate life as a former first child, the twins assured the girls that good things were on the horizon, writing, “You have so much to look forward to. You will be writing the story of your lives, beyond the shadow of your famous parents, yet you will always carry with you the experiences of the past eight years.”
“Anyone who meets Barbara adores her”
If anyone ever doubts the close bond shared by the Bush twins, a quick Google search will nullify any concern of jealousy or sibling rivalry. Jenna and Barbara Bush are absolutely crazy about one another, as evidenced by the way they each take advantage of any opportunity to gush about their admiration for their twin sister. In an interview with Maria Shriver, Barbara Bush said, “I can easily say that the luckiest thing that ever happened in my life was being born with a twin of Jenna.”
And Jenna is at no loss of kind words to say about her sister, either. While co-hosting Today with Hoda Kotb, Jenna dished the details of the sisters’ recent Southern Living feature and photoshoot — and she couldn’t help gushing about her sister on air. “She’s so awesome, and I feel so lucky,” Jenna said about Barbara, nearly tearing up. “How awesome that I’ve had her to hold my hand through [everything].”
Maids of Honor
Jenna and Barbara Bush have been with each other through all of life’s ups and downs — from Texas to the White House and everything in between. So it would only make sense for the twins to stand alongside one another on the biggest days of their lives. When 26 year-old Jenna Bush married Henry Hager in a low-key 2008 Texas ceremony, her twin sister served as her Maid of Honor, visibly emotional as her sister and best friend exchanged vows with the love of her life.
And though Barbara would wait ten years before exchanging vows of her own, Jenna was by her side when she wed actor Craig Coyne in a secret ceremony that took place at the Bush family’s summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. In a phone call with her Today colleagues after the wedding, Jenna Bush made it clear that she definitely approves of her sister’s new husband. “I’m crying 24 hours later,” Bush said. “There were so many happy tears.”
Barbara Bush Wellesley College Speech: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
Getty First Lady Barbara Bush greets the delegates attending the 1992 Republican Convention before beginning her speech.
In 1990, then-First Lady Barbara Bush delivered the commencement address at the esteemed Wellesley College, a private women’s liberal arts college located west of Boston in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
It’s a stunning campus in an idyllic location and its focus is to offer a superlative educational experience as it helps empower women. Founded in 1870, the Wellesley motto is ‘Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.’ A perfect venue for the First Lady of the United States to deliver a speech to a class of brilliant, independent young women. Or not. There was a huge controversy surrounding the anticipated commencement address.
But there’s a surprise ending.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Wellesley College: ‘Not to be Ministered Unto, But to Minister’
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Wellesley College is one of the One of the ‘Seven Sisters,’ historically women’s liberal arts colleges in the northeast, Barnard College, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Wellesley College, Vassar College and Radcliffe, the latter two co-educational. All seven were founded in the mid to late 19th century.
Notable alumni include Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, Madeleine Albright, Diane Sawyer, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Wellesley College describes itself as “one of the most prestigious and highly respected institutions of higher education in the country and widely acknowledged as the nation’s top college for women, provides its 2300 students with opportunities that prepare them to realize their own highest ambitions and compete in any setting.”
In the spring of 1990, the senior class voted and chose Alice Walker, author of ‘The Color Purple,’ to be their commencement speaker. Their second choice was First Lady Barbara Bush. Walker declined and so it would be Mrs. Bush delivering the commencement address for the Class of 1990. At the time, her husband, George H. W. Bush, was the 41st President of the United States. Wellesley is a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, a Ivy League-ish school in a blue state. And many young women there were not only unhappy about the politics involved, there was another problem.
2. Their Second Choice, Some Wellesley Seniors Were Vehemently Opposed to First Lady Barbara Bush as Commencement Speaker
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY9: US First Lady Barbara Bush smiles after presenting her Inagural Ball gown to the Smithsonian Institute, in Washington, DC, 09 January 1990.
The New York Times reported in 1990 that 150 Wellesley students presented to the then-college president Dr. Keohane a petition that read: “Wellesley teaches that we will be rewarded on the basis of our own merit, not on that of a spouse. To honor Barbara Bush as a commencement speaker is to honor a woman who has gained recognition through the achievements of her husband, which contravenes what we have been taught over the last four years at Wellesley.”
But it was perhaps more symbol than call to action; the petition did not demand Bush be uninvited, in fact, the senior class voted and the First Lady was their second choice.
Mrs. Bush sat with reporters before the graduation and, the Times reported the First Lady said she understood where the students were coming from adding they ”were very reasonable.” But, said, ”they’re 21 years old and they’re looking at life from that perspective. I don’t disagree with what they’re looking at …’I don’t think they understand where I’m coming from. I chose to live the life I’ve lived, and I think it’s been a fabulously exciting, interesting, involved life. In my day, they probably would have been considered different. In their day, I’m considered different. Vive la difference.”
3. The First Lady’s Speech Made History, or Herstory
In 1990, Eleanor Clift wrote in Newsweek that Bush was not “defensive about her college-dropout, career-housewife resume.” But what she did do in the speech was suggest that whatever a woman chose to do, emphasis on her choice, was empowering. Even if that meant dropping out of school to marry and support a husband, and later an American dynasty, in politics and public service.
Wellesley has this ritual where students race while rolling a wooden hoop. The winner, way, way back in the day, was the first of the class to get married. In 1990, the winner would be the first CEO.
Mrs. Bush said,“Both of those stereotypes show too little tolerance …So I want to offer you today a new legend: The winner of the hoop race will be the first to realize her dream … not society’s dreams … her own personal dream.”
372407 01 :BUSH RETROSPECTIVE: Portrait of the Bush family in front of their Kennebunkport, Maine August 24, 1986. BACK ROW: Margaret holding daughter Marshall, Marvin Bush, Bill LeBlond. FRONT ROW: Neil Bush holding son Pierce, Sharon, George W. Bush holding daughter Barbara, Laura Bush holding daughter Jenna, Barbara Bush, George Bush, Sam LeBlond, Doro Bush Lebond, George P.(jeb’s son), Jeb Bush holding son Jebby, Columba Bush, and Noelle Bush. (Photo by Newsmakers
The First Lady told the graduates, many who were opposed to her speaking at all, that the “first-class education from a first-class school” meant they’d have choices and not be forced to live a “paint-by-numbers” life.
“Decisions are not irrevocable. Choices do come back,” she said.
Mrs. Bush recommended grads do three things: “… to believe in something larger than yourself,” to make sure to live life, have joy and fun, and third, to maintain “human connections.” Here she was speaking about mostly powerful love found in family: “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not 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.”
The speech takes a sharp turn then. And she comes to her point.
4. When First Lady Barbara Bush Brings the Down the House, & a Partially Hostile House at That
First Lady Barbara Bush Wellesley College
In her speech Mrs. Bush switches gears a bit and talks traditional family values. Sort of.
“We are in a transitional period right now … fascinating and exhilarating times … learning to adjust to the changes and the choices we … men and women … are facing. As an example, I remember what a friend said, on hearing her husband complain to his buddies that he had to babysit. Quickly setting him straight, my friend told her husband that when it’s your own kids, it’s not called babysitting!
374836 01: George Bush and his wife Barbara sit in their bed as six of their fourteen grandchildren play around them in Washington, D.C. Bush was born June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts. He attended both Phillips Academy in Andover and Yale University. (Photo by Liaison)
“Maybe we should adjust faster, maybe we should adjust slower. 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, 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 on what happens inside your house.”
And at this point, there may have been some eye-rolling but she will soon have people in tears and roaring with laughter. Remember the race with the hoop? How she says the winner “will be the first to realize her dream … not society’s dreams … her own personal dream,” recall?
“And who knows? Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the President’s spouse. I wish him well!”
5. ‘A Job Wellesley Done’ By Barbara Bush & Raisa Gorbachev
Raisa Gorbachev (R), wife of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, raises the hands of Barbara Bush (L), wife of US President George Bush 01 June 1990 while the two were introduced at the Wellesley graduation ceremony in Wellesley, Mass. Raisa Gorbachev died 20 Septembre 1999 in Muenster, Germany, after a lengthy struggle with leukemia. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Raisa Gorbachev, wife of the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, also spoke at Wellesley that June day in 1990.
“We women have our special mission. Always, even in the most cruel and troubled times, women have had the mission of peacemaking, humanism. mercy, and kindness. And if people in the world today are more confident of a peaceful future, we have to give a great deal of credit for that to women, who are active in advocating friendship, cooperation, and mutual understanding among nations,” Gorbachev said.
WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 31: Former US First Lady Barbara Bush (R) and former Soviet First Lady Raisa Gorbachev (R) are shown in this file photo as they watch their husbands participate in formal summit arrival ceremonies, 31 May 1990, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington,DC. (Photo credit should read DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
“The President of the Soviet Union asked me to convey to you his warm regards. He also wishes you happy roads in your life. We know that people in America show great interest in what is happening in the Soviet Union, the land of perestroika. This word nowadays sounds the same in all the languages of the world. We associate with perestroika the future of our country, whose millions of people speak over 120 languages. Perestroika was conceived and is being implemented for the sake of the people, their dignity, and quality. Its goal is to make humane ideals and values a reality. This vast and difficult task is a top challenge, but we are confident that perestroika will succeed. The guarantee of that is the patriotism and talent of our people, their tenacity, their strength, and their desire to overcome obstacles on the way, on the road they chose.”
Hard to picture now almost three decades later
“Their husbands had the easy job. Putting the cold war to bed is nothing compared with negotiating the conflicts of modern-day feminism. But Barbara Bush and Raisa Gorbacheva did some disarming of their own in a joint commencement speech at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. The First Ladies were models of diplomacy. They clasped hands and shared the stage like partners in perestroika,” said Clift.
Raisa Gorbachev wife of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, raises the hands of Barbara Bush (R), wife of US President George Bush 01 June 1990 while the two were introduced at the Wellesley graduation ceremony in Wellesley, Mass. Raisa Gorbachev died 20 Septembre 1999 in Muenster, Germany, after a lengthy struggle with leukemia.
While this was not the first time the First Lady delivered the same speech, what happened at Wellesley was an achievement her staff said at the time. As did the media. “One of the best commencement speeches I’ve ever heard,” NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said. When the First Lady returned to the White House her staff had a banner that read, ‘A Job Wellesley Done.’