Meet the Mexican immigrant who helped raise George W. Bush

One woman has had a defining influence in George W. Bush's views on immigration: Paula Rendon, an immigrant from Mexico who left her own children behind to help raise Bush and his siblings. 

"First immigrant I knew," the former president told CBS News in a recent interview from his ranch in Texas. "I was 13 years old. Mother and Dad had hired her to come and help with our family. She left three kids behind in Mexico. I'll never forget opening the doors — pouring rain in Houston — and there she was, tiny little woman huddled and scared to death. And she taught me a lot about immigrants and dreams." 

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Former President George W. Bush's portrait of Paula Rendon.  Handout

Rendon is one of 43 immigrants whom Mr. Bush painted for his book, "Out of Many, One: Portraits of America's Immigrants." By sharing their stories, Mr. Bush is seeking to humanize the people at the center of the immigration debate. 

Rendon was living in a small house with a dirt floor in Cuernavaca, Mexico, when she went to work for the Bush family in Houston, according to the book. Her husband had recently died and she needed to support her children, whom she later brought to the U.S. and are now American citizens. 

The former president said she was a second mother to him and his siblings. She was tough, generous and loving, he said. 

She moved into the White House when former President George H.W. Bush was elected. 

"I don't think Dad would have become president without Paula Rendon," said Marvin Bush, the youngest sibling, in the book. "Her presence gave Dad, and Mom, the comfort to travel and build the relationships that were essential to Dad's career success." 

Mr. Bush said Rendon, who came to the U.S. in the late 1950s, would have a harder time getting into the country now. 

"Well, she could come on a work visa, but the problem is the work visas are too hard to get," he said. "No matter how desperate she got — she would've been — there wouldn't have been a legal avenue for her to come. And therefore, in order to make the system work better, the Congress needs to think about how to expand work visas."

Mr. Bush has long supported a pathway to citizenship for immigrants. In 2006, he gave an Oval Office address saying, "We are a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We are also a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways. These are not contradictory goals – America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time."

Paula Rendon with Bush family
President George H.W., first lady Barbara Bush with their daughter, Doro, watch Paula Rendon prepare pies for Thanksgiving at Camp David on November 23, 1989.  George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush set up a retirement plan for Rendon, but Mr. Bush said she refused to retire. She continued to help the former first lady oversee the household until she was 95. She died in 2020 at age 97, shortly after Mr. Bush finished her portrait. Several of the Bush siblings attended her funeral. 

"We learned a lot from Paula," Mr. Bush writes. "She taught us what it means to work hard. She taught us what it means to sacrifice for family. And she taught us to be grateful to immigrants, who keep the American dream alive by realizing it and passing it along to new generations of diligent, determined United States citizens." 

  • Norah O'Donnell
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    Norah O'Donnell is the anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News." She also contributes to "60 Minutes."