U.S. first lady Michelle Obama calls Laura Bush a role model, friend

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U.S. first lady Michelle Obama calls Laura Bush a role model, friend
US First Lady Michelle Obama (L) and former First Lady Laura Bush host 'Investing in Our Future' at the US - Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The day-long symposium will bring together First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Laura Bush, African first spouses from nearly 30 countries, leaders from non-governmental and non-profit organizations, private sector partners, and other leading experts.The symposium will highlight the important role first spouses play and will focus on the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - APRIL 25: (L-R) U.S. first lady Michelle Obama; President Barack Obama, former first lady Barbara Bush, former President George H.W. Bush, former President George W. Bush and his wife former first lady Laura Bush attend the opening ceremony of the George W. Bush Presidential Center April 25, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. The Bush library, which is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University, with more than 70 million pages of paper records, 43,000 artifacts, 200 million emails and four million digital photographs, will be opened to the public on May 1, 2013. The library is the 13th presidential library in the National Archives and Records Administration system. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) and former US First Lady Laura Bush participate in the African First Ladies Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on July 2, 2013. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (L) and former First Lady Laura Bush host 'Investing in Our Future' at the US - Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The day-long symposium will bring together First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Laura Bush, African first spouses from nearly 30 countries, leaders from non-governmental and non-profit organizations, private sector partners, and other leading experts.The symposium will highlight the important role first spouses play and will focus on the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (L) and former First Lady Laura Bush host 'Investing in Our Future' at the US - Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The day-long symposium will bring together First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Laura Bush, African first spouses from nearly 30 countries, leaders from non-governmental and non-profit organizations, private sector partners, and other leading experts.The symposium will highlight the important role first spouses play and will focus on the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) and former US First Lady Laura Bush greet each other on July 2, 2013 as they arrive at the African First Ladies Summit in Dar es Salaam. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 6: Former first lady Laura Bush (C), U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) and journalist Cokie Roberts participate in a Spousal Symposium at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The symposium, sponsored by first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush, focuses on the role the spouses of world leader's play and the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 6: Former first lady Laura Bush (C) and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) attend a Spousal Symposium at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The symposium, sponsored by first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush, focuses on the role the spouses of world leader's play and the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 6: Former U.S. President George W. Bush sits with the spouses of African leaders at a Spousal Symposium at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The symposium, sponsored by first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush, focuses on the role the spouses of world leader's play and the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
US first lady Michelle Obama (R) and former US first lady Laura Bush wait back stage before a panel discussion 'Investing in Our Future' at the US-Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. Michelle Obama and Laura Bush were joined by others to discuss women's issues and advancement in Africa. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) and former US First Lady Laura Bush participate in the African First Ladies Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on July 2, 2013. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the 2014 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, part of the Joining Forces initiative, Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
President Barack Obama kisses first lady Michelle Obama, the host of the "Kids State Dinner” in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 18, 2014. The White House treated more than 50 kid chefs to a "state dinner." The children earned a seat at the table by whipping up mouth-watering yet healthy meals as part of a nationwide contest sponsored by the food magazine Epicurious and the Education and Agriculture departments. Some of the winning recipes will be served at the dinner hosted by first lady Michelle Obama. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Unite For Veterans Summit in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Her keynote address highlighted the importance of assistance for veterans as they leave military service. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 6: Former first lady Laura Bush participates in a Spousal Symposium at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The symposium, sponsored by first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush, focuses on the role the spouses of world leader's play and the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 10: First Lady Laura Bush (C) greets the Rev. Jesse Jackson as she takes her seat to listen to her husband former President George W. Bush address a private gathering in the LBJ Library Atrium on April 10, 2014 in Austin, Texas. The summit is marking the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act legislation, with U.S. President Barack Obama making the keynote speech on April 10. (Photo by Ralph Barrera-Pool/Getty Images)
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By Annika McGinnis

(Reuters) - U.S. first lady Michelle Obama said she considered her predecessor Laura Bush a "role model and a friend," as the two took the stage together on Wednesday at an event on empowering women in Africa.

Despite their husbands' political differences, Obama said that Bush had "long been an inspiration."

The forum, held at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, was part of U.S.-Africa summit taking place in Washington this week and included 27 African first ladies. Also attending was former President George W. Bush.

Urging African first ladies to use their influence to help women, Obama praised Laura Bush's efforts in fighting cervical and breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Laura Bush set a high bar for me during her time in the White House, and she has continued to do outstanding work around the world since she and her husband left Washington. And I consider her not just a role model, but also a friend."

The two first got to know each other in November 2008, just after President Barack Obama was elected to the White House. Laura Bush gave Michelle Obama a tour of the living quarters.

Laura Bush defended Michelle Obama during the 2008 campaign when critics accused Obama of being unpatriotic for saying support for her husband, who became the first African American president, had made her "really proud" of her country for the first time. Bush said that Obama's comments were often misconstrued, leading Obama to write her a thank-you note.

Last summer, the two discussed women's health in Tanzania as part of President Obama's African tour.

On Wednesday, they shared stories about how they developed their public passions and commiserated about challenges they had faced as spouses to the U.S. president.

"We're elected by one man," Bush said, to laughter.

Michelle Obama, who has used her role to focus on childhood obesity but has been criticized for "nanny-state" scolding, said that regardless of whether first ladies were "shy" or "aggressive," each had to work within their abilities.

"Watching Mrs. Bush, she has been able to traverse all of this with a level of grace and kindness and compassion," Obama said. "Being president doesn't change who you are; it reveals who you are. And that's true for first spouses as well."

Former President Bush announced the expansion of his "Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon" cervical and breast cancer prevention program to Namibia and Ethiopia. It builds on the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program, which Bush started in office and which is widely touted for having dramatically cut AIDS deaths.

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