Ge­orge and Bar­bara Bush, a ‘sto­ry­book’ 73-year mar­riage


HOUS­TON — They met at a Christ­mas dance. She was 17. He was 18.

Two years later they were mar­ried. Now 73 years later, they are the long­est-mar­ried cou­ple in pres­i­den­tial his­tory.

“Ge­orge Bush knows how I feel,” Bar­bara Bush has said. “He is the hero… He is my hero.”

With her for­mer pres­i­dent hus­band still at her side, for­mer first lady Bar­bara Bush has de­cided to de­cline fur­ther med­i­cal treat­ment for health prob­lems and fo­cus in­stead on “com­fort care” at their home in Hous­ton.

Fam­ily spokesman Jim McGrath dis­closed Bar­bara Bush’s de­ci­sion Sun­day. The 92-yearold had been in the hos­pi­tal re­cently for con­ges­tive heart fail­ure and chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease. She had heart valve re­place­ment surgery in 2009 and a long his­tory of treat­ment for Graves’ dis­ease, a thy­roid con­di­tion.

The cou­ple’s re­la­tion­ship is a true love story, which grand­daugh­ter Jenna Bush Hager de­scribed Mon­day as “re­mark­able.”

The for­mer pres­i­dent “still says, ‘I love you Bar­bie’ ev­ery night,” Hager said on NBC’s “To­day”, where she works. They had six chil­dren, in­clud­ing Hager’s fa­ther, for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, mak­ing Bar­bara Bush one of only two first ladies to also be a pres­i­den­tial mother. The other was Abi­gail Adams, wife of John Adams, the na­tion’s sec­ond pres­i­dent, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth pres­i­dent.

Ge­orge H.W. Bush, 93, has de­scribed the mother of their six chil­dren as “the main­stay, of course, the par­ent who was al­ways there to help solve the daily prob­lems and emer­gen­cies of teen and pre­teen life.”

In her 1994 mem­oir, Bar­bara Bush de­scribes her and her hus­band as “the two luck­i­est peo­ple in the world, and when all the dust is set­tled and all the crowds are gone, the things that mat­ter are faith, fam­ily and friends. We have been in­or­di­nately blessed, and we know that.”

The for­mer pres­i­dent was a naval avi­a­tor in train­ing when they met.

“I’m not much at re­call­ing what peo­ple wear, but that par­tic­u­lar oc­ca­sion stands out in my mem­ory,” he says in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

The band was play­ing Glenn Miller tunes and he asked a friend from Rye, New York, if he knew the girl across the room in the green and red hol­i­day dress. The friend in­tro­duced him to Bar­bara Pierce, a pub­lisher’s daugh­ter from Rye who was go­ing to school in South Carolina. The next song was a waltz. “Since I didn’t waltz, we sat the dance out. And sev­eral more af­ter that, talk­ing and get­ting to know each other,” Ge­orge H.W. Bush said. “It was a sto­ry­book meet­ing.”

Within eight months, they’d met each other’s fam­i­lies, were en­gaged in Au­gust 1943 and mar­ried Jan. 6, 1945, four months af­ter Bush was shot down over the Pa­cific. He’d been the Navy’s youngest avi­a­tor when he got his wings and car­ried the name “Bar­bara” on his Grum­man Avenger tor­pedo bomber.

Af­ter the war, he at­tended Yale and they moved to Texas. Her hus­band made his mark in the oil busi­ness as the cou­ple grew their fam­ily and turned to pol­i­tics, a jour­ney that would take them around the world and into the White House.

“You have given me joy that few men know,” Ge­orge Bush wrote to her, ac­cord­ing to a col­lec­tion of let­ters pub­lished in 1999.

“I have climbed per­haps the high­est moun­tain in the world, but even that can­not hold a can­dle to be­ing Bar­bara’s hus­band,” he also said.

Pho­tos taken of the cou­ple by The As­so­ci­ated Press over the decades have cap­tured mo­ments of care, such as when Bar­bara Bush ap­plied sun­screen to the 41st pres­i­dent’s nose at a 2015 base­ball game be­tween the Hous­ton Astros and Seat­tle Mariners; and can­dor, no­tably af­ter Bush stepped on his wife’s toe in 1989 while board­ing Air Force One.

Their mar­riage also has en­dured more se­ri­ous tri­als.

A daugh­ter, Robin, died in

1953 of leukemia a few weeks be­fore her 4th birth­day.

Bar­bara Bush has re­called a bout of de­pres­sion in the mid1970s.

“Night af­ter night, Ge­orge held me weep­ing in his arms while I tried to ex­plain my feel­ings,” she said. “I al­most won­der why he didn’t leave me.”

Just last year, al­le­ga­tions sur­faced that Bush, who for more than five years has used a wheel­chair for mo­bil­ity, in­ap­pro­pri­ately touched more than a half dozen women on their but­tocks as they stood next to him to take pho­tos.

Through McGrath, Bush is­sued re­peated apolo­gies “to any­one he has of­fended.”

“Ge­orge Bush sim­ply does not have it in his heart to know­ingly cause any­one dis­tress,” McGrath said.

Also last year, they both wound up in the same Hous­ton hos­pi­tal — the for­mer pres­i­dent with pneu­mo­nia; his wife with bron­chi­tis.

In 2013, she told C-SPAN in an in­ter­view that they pray aloud each night “and some­times we fight over whose turn it is.”

In the same con­ver­sa­tion, she said she didn’t fear death for her­self or “my pre­cious Ge­orge.”

“I know there is a great God, and I’m not wor­ried,” she said.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

SEN­ATE CAN­DI­DATE BUSH: In this June 6, 1964 file photo, Ge­orge Bush, can­di­date for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for the U.S. Sen­ate, gets re­turns by phone at his head­quar­ters in Hous­ton as his wife Bar­bara, beams her plea­sure at the news. For­mer first...

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