In this time of bitter partisan divide, yesterday's funeral for former first lady Barbara Bush attracted mourners from both sides of the political aisle. A remembrance now from historian Douglas Brinkley:
As America mourns-- "The Enforcer," as her 93-year-old husband George Bush lovingly calls her -- I've been a bit surprised at how deep the well of national affection and love for her truly is.
Many first ladies are respected for spearheading a noble cause: Lady Bird Johnson's call for landscape beautification; Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No to Drugs" crusade; and Michelle Obama's call for healthy eating.
But to my mind, Barbara Bush's promotion of literacy is perhaps the most enduring of all. Her argument was that if more people could read, write and THINK, America would be a far healthier and more prosperous society.
But there was something else about Barbara Bush that lit the national psyche: Her unwavering insistence that family and children came first.
The idea was central to her famous Wellesley College commencement address of June 1, 1990, one of the most memorable ever delivered. Here's the backstory:
A handful of Wellesley seniors protested, arguing that Mrs. Bush was notable only because of her husband. That's when the first lady sprang into action.
She invited Raisa Gorbachev, wife of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to co-deliver the address with her. Mrs. Bush -- with Mrs. Gorbachev at her side -- opened by acknowledging that the novelist Alice Walker, known for "The Color Purple," was the preferred speaker of most Wellesley graduates. Instead, the first lady said, "you got ME, known for the color of my hair!"
Then, off she went, on an eloquent meditation about diversity, feminism, family, literacy, kindness, history and hope.
"At the end of your life," she said, "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."
Watch: Barbara Bush's 1990 commencement speech at Wellesley:
Thank you, Mrs. Bush, for your dignity, no-nonsense demeanor, civility, and all-around largesse.
May the Enforcer always be with us.
For more info:
- Barbara Bush (George Bush Presidential Library & Museum)
- Douglas Brinkley, Rice University
- Follow @ProfDBrinkley on Twitter
Story produced by Kim Young.