God Bless Barbara Pierce Bush’s memory! The tributes shared at her memorial service were both heartwarming and telling. Heartwarming because it was obvious those who participated were visibly emotional because of their affection for her. Telling because Barbara represented all that is good and right about being a woman in today’s very complex and dysfunctional culture. The “Me Too” movement has pricked the conscience of America, reminding us that women are not trophies to be used, rather individuals to be respected.
Barbara’s humor and candidness were a major part of her trademark. She could zing a one line “barb,” which would both make a point that needed to be made and endear her to even her worst critic. Probably one of the best examples of one of those lines was made at a commencement ceremony at Wellesley College, an Ivy League school in Wellesley, Massachusetts on June 1, 1990. There was a level of discord on the Wellesley campus surrounding her selection as the commencement speaker. Many felt she was only chosen because she was the wife of the President of the United States. At the end of her speech she caught the entire crowd off guard when she said, “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!” The place erupted, and her critics became her cheerleaders.
There are scores of stories told about Barbara’s one liners which endeared her to the hearts of many. What was it about “The Silver Fox,” one of many terms of endearment used to describe her, that made America love this “girl next door?”
First, although Mrs. Bush knew the pain of loss, she never lost her sense of humor. In 1953 she buried an infant daughter named Robin, who died of leukemia at age 3. The death of a child is truly one of the most devastating experiences one can endure. I’m confident that Barbara shed gallons of tears over Robin’s passing. A symbol of the deep love “The Enforcer,” another term of endearment, had for Robin is that she requested to be buried beside her. Today she can hold in Heaven the jewel she lost on Earth.
Second, she was an independent thinker and differed with her husband on social issues but never used her role to undermine President George H. W. Bush’s leadership. Many knew of her views that ran contrary to the Republican platform, but she did not let that steal the spotlight. She shined her light on literacy, a cause that changed the lives of many because she dared to also speak out about another right, the right to an education. Part of her legacy was the founding, over 25 years ago, of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Then First Lady, she started the non-profit with a goal to empower families through literacy. Driven by her passion for reading, she set out to raise awareness about the importance of family literacy, in other words, giving children and their parents the opportunity to learn and achieve together.
Third, her deep valuing of the family, but more importantly her family, made her a legend in the eyes of her family. My heart was moved as I watched her granddaughters read the Proverbs 31 passage, which speaks of the qualities of a virtuous woman. They could hardly contain their composure because they were describing their grandmother. William Ross Wallace said it well with the title of his poem, “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Is the Hand That Rules the World.” Mrs. Bush is a living example of this statement when you consider she was the wife of a President and the mother of another President. These two men led the most powerful nation in the world. Be assured each of them looked to her for strength and wisdom.
Fourth, she was beautiful in her own right, yet her beauty wasn’t the type that was featured on the front of glamour or fashion magazines. Appearing in such publications never even made her bucket list. Yet, in his eulogy to his Mom, Jeb Bush said, “She was beautiful until the day she died.” Her beauty was more than skin deep. It was the kind that radiated from the inside out. I found it interesting how many times it has been mentioned that she wore imitation pearls. Her pearls captured the message you can be a “real” person and wear costume jewelry. She was much more than her appearance, her clothes, jewelry, or make-up, and she would not let those things define her.
So, what is the purpose of dedicating an entire blog to someone I didn’t know personally? Well, I’m on a mission. One of my missions is to use my voice and pen to celebrate the “Barbara Bushes” who grace the landscape of our communities. I feel so strongly about this that our 7th Annual Love Akron Awards Breakfast, which will be held on Tuesday, October 2, at the John S. Knight Center, will focus on celebrating the high value of women leaders in our community. Just like we designed last year’s Breakfast around the subject of civility, this year we will center on the amazing contributions women make in the marketplace, the home, and our places of worship. It is high time we recognize women outside of just on Mother’s Day. I’m excited to showcase just a piece of the talent and servant leadership women bring to the Greater Akron Area.
We will also be featuring a special tribute to the late Judge Brenda Burnham Unruh, who was the inspiration behind the inception of this servant leadership awards breakfast. Judge Carla Moore, former judge of the Ninth District Court of Appeals, will be our primary speaker. More information about the morning, including how to purchase tickets, will be coming soon.
As I close, let me just say, “Thank you, Barbara Bush!” You made all of us proud in the way you lived your life, with a class, dignity, faith, and grit, that we can all aspire to show in our own lives and celebrate in the lives of others. May your kind increase!