Barbara Bush, the 'enforcer' of a political dynasty, is dead

Former first lady Barbara Bush, one of only two women in American history to have been both the wife and the mother of a U.S. president, died in her home in Houston on Tuesday at the age of 92.

Known for her shock of white hair and trademark pearls, Barbara Bush was quickly branded the nation’s “grandmother in chief” when her husband, President George H.W. Bush, ascended to the White House in 1988. But her matronly appearance and polite disposition concealed a sharp tongue and devilish wit that she later became known for, as she increasingly stepped forward as her husband’s defender during his presidency and a rough-and-tumble reelection campaign that he ultimately lost to Bill Clinton.

While her husband was the linchpin of a multigenerational political dynasty, Bush provided much of the steel in the family. Forgoing a career of her own to take care of her kids and support her spouse’s political ambitions, she once said, “My career was my family.” She was of a generation where women were largely defined by their fathers and whom they married, but as the times changed, so did she, gradually showing more of the strong personality that led her kids to lovingly describe her as “the enforcer.”

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Former first lady Barbara Bush throughout the years
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Former first lady Barbara Bush throughout the years
First Lady Barbara Bush sheltering (from sun) under umbrella, listening to her incumbent husband George speak at campaign rally. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
politician US President George HW Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush wave from a lectern, Saudi Arabia, November 22, 1990. The visit, occurring during Operation Desert Shield, was part of a Thanksgiving tour. (Photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ed Bailey/PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
Former First Lady, Barbara Bush listens to speakers during the second day of the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images)
FILE WASHINGTON, DC - NOV 19, 1992: Barbara Bush gives Hillary Clinton a tour of the White House. (Photo by James A. Parcell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush participates in the coin toss ahead of the start of Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons as former first lady Barbara Bush looks on in Houston , Texas, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Gov. George W. Bush gives his mother and former first lady Barbara Bush a hug after a family portrait session, June 10. The Bush family was in Houston celebrating the 75th and 74th birthdays, respectively, of the former president and first lady. aal/ Photo by Adrees A. AAL/RC
First Lady Barbara Bush waving to crowd at campaign rally. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
US President George Bush, Queen Elizabeth II and First Lady Barbara Bush shake hands with Mike Gallego, Rick Honeycutt, and Jose Canseco of the Oakland Athletics at game between the Athletics and the Baltimore Orioles. (Photo by � Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
First Lady Barbara Bush and Russian First Lady Naina Yeltsin cooking a huge cauldron of soup at a homeless facility during the Yeltsins' trip to Washington. (Photo by Carol T. Powers/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Former U.S. first lady Barbara Bush, along with Second Lady Jill Biden (R), greets members of the audience during an event to honor the winner of the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award at the White House in Washington July 15, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
First Lady Barbara Bush carrying grandchild Ellie in Kennebunkport. (Photo by David Valdez/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama laughs alongside former first lady Barbara Bush during the dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, April 25, 2013. Obama is in Texas to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with former president George W. Bush in what could serve as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle against terrorism, from the Sept. 11 attacks to the Boston Marathon bombings. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
First Lady Barbara Bush wearing Rangers jacket w. her arm around son George W. Bush. (Photo by Phil Huber/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
KENNEBUNK, ME - MAY 19: Former first lady Barbara Bush waves to the crowd as she arrives at the dedication of the Mathew J. Lanigan bridge Friday, May 19, 2017. The bridge was first built in 1933 and connects Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. The new bridge cost $2.7 million and was completed in a very short time frame. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 19: Jeb Bush's wife Columba Bush, left, and former first lady Mrs. Barbara Bush share a moment during a campaign event with Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush February 19, 2016 in Greenville, South Carolina. The South Carolina Republican primary will be held Saturday, February 20. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 29: Former first lady Barbara Bush looks on before game five of the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Minute Maid Park on October 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by David J. Phillip - Pool/Getty Images)
Barbara Bush, former U.S. first lady, center, center, looks over a menu while having lunch her son Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, at MaryAnn's Diner in Derry, New Hampshire, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. Bush appeared alongside Barbara Bush reminding voters of his political dynasty in a last-ditch attempt to revive his faltering campaign. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Barbara Bush, former U.S. first lady, left, and her son Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, right, stand for a photograph with an employee at MaryAnn's Diner in Derry, New Hampshire, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. Bush appeared alongside Barbara Bush reminding voters of his political dynasty in a last-ditch attempt to revive his faltering campaign. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former first lady Barbara Bush (L) and Jenna Welch, mother of first lady Laura Bush, listen as U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush speak about global literacy at the New York Public Libary in New York City September 18, 2006. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES)
First lady Laura Bush (L) stands with former U.S. President George H. W. Bush (C) as his wife Barbara Bush (R) speaks during dedication ceremonies at the restored childhood home of U.S. President George W. Bush in Midland, Texas, April 11, 2006. The Bushes lived in the house from 1952-1955. REUTERS/Jeff Mitchell
First lady Laura Bush (L) and her mother-in-law Barbara Bush (R) wave to reporters as they await President George W. Bush's return to the White House from a short visit to Florida, May 10, 2006. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Former first ladies Nancy Reagan (R), Barbara Bush (C) and former Secretary of State George Schultz (L) sing during a memorial service for billionaire publisher, philanthropist, and former U.S. ambassador to Britain, Walter Annenberg at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, December 6, 2002. Annenberg, who created Seventeen magazine and TV Guide died October 1, 2002, at the age of 94. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer TMS
First Lady Barbara Bush embraces Mrs. Hillary Clinton as she welcomes her to the White House November 19, 1992 on her first visit to Washington since her husband's election victory over President George Bush. The Clintons will move into the White House on January 20. Reuters/Steve Jaffe
KENNEBUNKPORT, UNITED STATES: Former first lady Barbara Bush (L) shakes hands with a priest after atttending Sunday service at Saint Ann's Episcopal Church as former US president George H.W. Bush ((R) looks on 27 August 2006 in Kennebunkport, Maine. US President George W. Bush was in Kennebunkport to visit his parents and to attend a relative's wedding. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MAY 10: Former first lady Barbara Bush takes a photograph from the Truman Balcony, while her son, U.S. President George W. Bush, returns to the White House May 10, 2006 in Washington, DC. President Bush was returning from a trip to Florida where he was promoting the Medicare prescription drug benefit program. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Former First Lady Barbara Bush speaks to a packed House chamber in Austin, where she gave readings from her new book, 'Reflections,' an account of life after the White House. The event was a part of the Texas Book Festival, founded in 1995 by current First Lady Laura Bush. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 2587 -- Pictured: (l-r) Former First Lady Barbara Bush during an interview with host Jay Leno -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
U.S. President George Bush (L) and First Lady Barbara Bush play with confetti 20 August 1992 as it showered them at the 1992 Republican National Convention. The confetti and more than 100,000 balloons were dropped after the president concluded his speech. (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Barbara Bush and her son George Bush Jr attend the 1992 Republican National Convention on August 17, 1992 in Houston. AFP PHOTO CHRIS WILKINS (Photo credit should read CHRIS WILKINS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 7: This file photo shows former US First Lady Barbara Bush (L) as she prepares to throw a rugby ball 07 February 1992,in Washington,DC, after receiving it from Mary Sullivan (R), captain of the US national women's rugby team. The US team, which won the World Cup, received the Team Spirit Award from Mrs. Bush. (Photo credit should read ROBERT GIROUX/AFP/Getty Images)
Pres. George Bush and First Lady Barbara (in sunglasses) riding in their Cigarette boat Fidelty w. an unident. man. (Photo by Susan Biddle/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
American First Lady Barbara Bush at the White House's Christmas party. (Photo by jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma via Getty Images)
5-1989 On the left is the first lady Barbara Bush Going over the list of Items to be put on the Cart on the far right is Neil Bush her son and helper at the Food Bank Phillip Warth is the smiler And Volunteer Sam Aguilar is helping to fill order and show the first Lady where things are ***** Credit: The Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)
First Lady Barbara Bush Holding Out Hands (Photo by � Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES: (L-R) First Lady Barbara Bush and Barbara Walters 1989 (Photo by Kimberly Butler/ABC via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES: President George H.W. Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush and Barbara Walters 1989 (Photo by Kimberly Butler/ABC via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC -- FEBRUARY 23: (L to R) First Lady Nancy Reagan, Mrs. Barbara Bush, President Ronald Reagan, and Vice President George H.W. Bush gather at the Vice President's residence on February 23, 1981 in Washington, DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images).
During his campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination, American politician (and future US President) George HW Bush (left) sits with his wife, future First Lady Barbara Bush, and watch television, Iowa, January 1980. (Photo Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
NBC NEWS -- 'Ronald Reagan First Presidential Inauguration' -- Pictured: (l-r) U.S. Vice President George Bush, Second Lady Barbara Bush during the first inauguration of President Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1981 in Washington D.C. -- (Photo by: NBC News/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Former first lady, Barbara Bush laughs with her son at the GOP convention in Dallas, Texas in 1992. (Photo by � Bill Gentile/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
George Bush arrives at a presidential campaign event with his wife, Laura, and his mother, former First Lady Barbara. Bush won the 2000 Presidential Election against Vice President Al Gore after a controversial vote recount in Florida. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)
Former first lady Barbara Bush (L) and first lady Michelle Obama walk into an event honoring the 5,000th winner of the "Daily Point of Light" award in the East Room of the White House in Washington July 15, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
FILE WASHINGTON, DC - JAN 6, 1994: Barbara Bush gives Hillary Clinton a tour of the White House. (Photo by James A. Parcell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
First Lady Barbara Bush talks with an army trooper as she and husband, President George H.W. Bush, eat a Thanksgiving Day lunch with the troops in eastern Saudi Arabia on November 22, 1990. REUTERS/Rick Wilking ( SAUDI ARABIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE
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Born Barbara Pierce, she was raised in the tony New York City suburb of Rye, the third of four daughters born to Pauline and Marvin Pierce, a prominent magazine publisher whose titles included McCall’s, one of the first publications aimed at women.

Barbara was 16 and home on vacation from Ashley Hall, a posh South Carolina boarding school, when “the handsomest man I ever saw” approached her at a Christmas dance. George H.W. Bush, who introduced himself as Poppy, was a 17-year-old senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and lived in nearby Connecticut. He couldn’t waltz, so the two sat and talked and “haven’t stopped talking since,” she later said. A year and a half later, as George prepared to head off to World War II, they became engaged, and in 1945, when he was on leave from his assignment flying bombing missions over the Pacific, they wed. “I married the first boy I ever kissed,” she said.

Just 19, Barbara dropped out of Smith College and followed her husband on what would become a storied career taking him from the East Coast to West Texas and overseas. She was an eager partner in her husband’s career, which took her to environments far removed from her prim upbringing, like Midland, Texas — an oil town that would become as important in Bush family lore as Kennebunkport, Maine, home of the family’s seaside retreat. Along the way, the couple would raise four sons — George W., Jeb, Neil and Marvin — and a daughter, Dorothy.

80 PHOTOS
Reaction to the death of Barbara Bush
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Reaction to the death of Barbara Bush

**Click through the following slides to see the tributes to former first lady Barbara Bush, who passed away on April 17, 2018 at the age of 92.**

(Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images).

Statement by President George W. Bush on the passing of Mrs. Barbara Bush: https://t.co/PwYs9SHwo3 https://t.co/FZMcRwv0Ve
My grandmother didn't just live life; she lived it well. And the sorrow of her loss is softened by the knowledge o… https://t.co/NzarkFtCHo
.@FLOTUS Melania and I join the Nation in celebrating the life of Barbara Bush: https://t.co/4NzyjxqAFM
Statement by Governor Jeb Bush on the Passing of Mrs. Barbara Bush https://t.co/7FXQlMH9Xe
Thanks to all the prayers, texts,emails, and notes received - how lucky are we to have had Ganny in our lives! Pray… https://t.co/VnyRGCFmy6
I think my Ganny would have wanted us to remember her by picking up a book and reading to our child, grandchild, or… https://t.co/Wfr0yYhnJs
Our statement on the passing of Barbara Bush: https://t.co/haIPhDS2bd
Our statement on the passing of Former First Lady Barbara Bush: https://t.co/MhTVYCL9Nj
There was no one else quite like Barbara Bush. Jill and I — and the entire Biden family — send our heartfelt condol… https://t.co/Tiia0XYyGq
Barbara Bush was a remarkable woman. She had grit & grace, brains & beauty. She was fierce & feisty in support of h… https://t.co/0kyGOCt32Y
Barbara Bush served her country and led her family with dignity and grace. She made children's literacy a lifelong… https://t.co/8Ui5OPrgvB
Always a friend to Canada, Barbara Bush leaves a legacy of dignity, grace, service and devotion to family. Sophie a… https://t.co/oTa9aWkUZU
Statement on passing of former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush. https://t.co/rqWuQke0MT
Praying for the entire Bush family as they mourn the loss and celebrate the life of their dear matriarch, Barbara B… https://t.co/Txktiwexhi
One of the greatest First Ladies in the history of our nation has gone to her Heavenly reward. RIP #BarbaraBush
As the husband of an exceptional woman myself, I know all she meant to President George H.W. Bush & their family. S… https://t.co/hOXpEfH84V
Barbara Bush served her country with class. She served her family with love and compassion. I’m grateful I knew her… https://t.co/59KQJ7jAvg
My prayers are with the Bush family at the passing of their beloved Barbara, an eternal First Lady in the heart of… https://t.co/w0SaSh3RqZ
From her scrappy demeanor and no-frills style to her boundless passion for family, literacy and freedom, Barbara Bu… https://t.co/j2iPlbp78q
Barbara Bush wielded her formidable qualities on behalf of her nation, the family she loved, and the many worthy ca… https://t.co/F6Lu7ln11Q
The U.S. Secret Service expresses sincere condolences to the family of Mrs. Barbara Bush, the epitome of class and… https://t.co/4BWaP2qcjB
When I first met Barbara Bush in 1988 as she entertained spouses of congressional candidates at the @VP Residence,… https://t.co/5rTk2v6afc
Throughout her life, Barbara Bush showed us all the importance of charity, literacy, and love of country. Our thoug… https://t.co/gWRsnRnCzr
A very nice and friendly former First Lady Barbara Bush dies Matriarch of Presidential families and civic leader… https://t.co/6a60ZJnleR
Ohioans join with all Americans to mourn the death of Barbara Bush, a woman of grace, humility, great compassion an… https://t.co/lFIwqaBWMw
What a wonderful life was lived by Fmr. First Lady Barbara Bush. Condolences to the entire Bush family.
America lost a great woman, a great mother and a great wife. Barbara Bush’s life has always been a shining example… https://t.co/YFCP3CjbhQ
Offering heartfelt condolences to the entire Bush family. May you find peace and comfort in fond memories of an inc… https://t.co/p7ofIuK4Dg
Former first lady Barbara Bush has passed away at the age of 92. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jenna and the en… https://t.co/x2Oazcv49x
Mrs. Bush served our country with dignity and grace. Liz and I send our thoughts and prayers to both Presidents Bus… https://t.co/jsWtKpgHL8
Mrs. Bush was feisty, gracious, beautiful, and exemplary in the unique family and societal roles she embraced. I ha… https://t.co/u6ygYzW8QM
Louise and I are sending our heartfelt condolences and prayers to the entire Bush family tonight. Barbara Bush was… https://t.co/0KmRVLW4ha
I send my thoughts to the family of former First Lady Barbara Bush. The wife of former President @GeorgeHWBush and… https://t.co/lrP4PdrDon
Barbara Bush was a great lady and a dear friend. Her passing is a terrible loss for the Bush family, the Sununu fam… https://t.co/XDbD6QLjud
“To us, she was so much more.” Fmr President George W Bush on the passing of his mother Fmr First Lady Barbara Bush https://t.co/1d00Qognv8
Rest In Peace Mrs. Barbara Bush. You were a beautiful light in this world and I am forever thankful for your friend… https://t.co/af8WDiAjpW
Our dear Barbara Bush. A grand lady, a great friend...she made the White House a brighter place. How we will miss y… https://t.co/3JBjKb0lau
Our prayers go out to the Bush family tonight as we mourn the passing of a terrific woman, former First Lady Barbar… https://t.co/NayRoPU4ni
#BarbaraBush represented everything that America stands for. She was strong willed but full of compassion. A great… https://t.co/t4cxvKmyFt
Barbara Bush, R.I.P. An angel on her way to heaven. Adrienne and I want to express our gratitude for a life ded… https://t.co/aGzgYNsMnx
So very sad about former First Lady Barbara Bush...I was so lucky to interview her many times and even so very fort… https://t.co/gmaidy2KbY
RIP Barbara Bush. A truly amazing life. She lived it on her terms until the very end. She was adored by her childre… https://t.co/g38QTk4bHU
With compassion and grace, Barbara Bush inspired generations of Americans. My deepest condolences go to President G… https://t.co/oCRad3vDrf
She was strong, she was tough, and oh, she was passionate, especially about her family.... I admired her so... R.I.P. Barbara Bush..🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼
Barbara Bush was a woman of incredible determination, wit, and compassion who embodied America’s best values. My de… https://t.co/G2XheGstyt
Rest In Peace Barbara Bush. You showed us what servant leadership, commitment to family, patriotism, and courage looked like. #MakeItMatter
Barbara Bush was an inspiring and influential First Lady. Becky and I are saddened by her passing, but we know that… https://t.co/40lDLao06N
Our prayers for the family of former First Lady Barbara Bush. She will be missed and we are better off because of her time here on earth.
Thank you #BarbaraBush - you made our nation a better place, Rest In Peace https://t.co/dtuu15DMyt
God bless the soul of Barbara Pierce Bush, First Lady, First Mother, a matriarch and a patriot. Condolences to the Bush family.
Hoy es un día triste. La muerte d Barbara Bush se lleva un gran ser humano. Nuestra nación llora la pérdida de una… https://t.co/SXcwQb3Vcj
Former First Lady Barbara Bush was a pillar of strength for her family and was much admired in our country. Both th… https://t.co/xDmmJzOBlJ
Barbara Bush holds a revered place in the hearts of generations of Americans. She so loved her family and our count… https://t.co/abbVbmy2A1
Our thoughts are with the Bush family as they grieve the loss of former first lady Barbara. She will forever be in… https://t.co/AwBWIdgl9C
I give my best wishes to former first lady Barbara Bush and condolences to the Bush family. For decades, Barbara se… https://t.co/lczbqcpaNl
We're saddened by the loss of former First Lady Barbara Bush. In her honor, here's a pic of her and former Presiden… https://t.co/WafZen6pUm
Barbara Bush was an unrelenting force for decency, community, and patriotism. As First Lady and throughout her life… https://t.co/q7ebaP2RGn
"In her loving memory, the City of Houston and the Houston Public Library Foundation will work to complete the mas… https://t.co/7tuFlF7Luf
Statement by Nixon daughters: "Barbara Bush remains a shining role model for all Americans, most especially our you… https://t.co/00W3kFoxpw
Mrs. Bush personified grace and class as First Lady and throughout her life; she will be missed. I send my heartfel… https://t.co/AlPP17itAu
Separate @FLOTUS statement just issued. https://t.co/VWRk57uAeq
Saddened to learn of the passing of Barbara Bush, a woman of great strength, dignity and good humor, she will be missed.
Sending my sincere condolences and prayers to The Bush family. 🙏🏻 https://t.co/BGb9CLhPIR
It was a pleasure to have met. Thoughts and prayers to the Bush Family. Much beloved. She will be greatly missed. https://t.co/99G7AifPzd
Ann and I send our deepest condolences to the Bush family upon the passing of First Lady Barbara Bush tonight. Main… https://t.co/JojFn4nkRr
Mrs. Bush embodied leadership, public service and loyalty. Sending thoughts and prayers to the Bush family. It was… https://t.co/wJEEtgZn5n
Statement from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter on the passing of Barbara Bush. https://t.co/OibQmXipao
Our country will be forever grateful & indebted for the impact former First Lady Barbara Bush had on improving lite… https://t.co/VCLjg8F7kr
I'm ever more aware these days of the importance of the example that comes from the White House. I'm so grateful th… https://t.co/rRBJp8lOyn
Prayers with the Bush family tonight. Barbara Bush was an amazing lady and will be missed!
Extending heartfelt sympathy to the Bush family this evening. A few months after I was fired from The View...Mrs.… https://t.co/x3bxiWVBah
Barbara Bush was known for her immeasurable kindness and generosity as First Lady, mother, wife, grandmother, and g… https://t.co/UA8SMiG9ah
First Lady Barbara Bush was dedicated to our state and devoted to our country. I'm joining Texans and Americans eve… https://t.co/P2FOEfWQQu
America just lost a tireless leader for family literacy. Your legacy of public service will live on. May you rest e… https://t.co/7HTur6P57p
Reid Ryan has issued the following statement: https://t.co/sCFRThbdgF
A woman of great dignity, grace, & humanity. Her love of family & country was second to none, and her work to incre… https://t.co/rw6ZoZRo2z
Barbara Bush lived an incredible life. I’m sending my love to her family.
Barbara Bush lived an extraordinary life of devotion, love, and laughter. She was a blessing to the First Family an… https://t.co/cLJjNCikrh
We mourn the passing of Barbara Bush, who believed that the world would be a better place if more people could read… https://t.co/bOAvedosKd
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But the Bushes also suffered terrible loss. In 1953, just a few months after their son Jeb was born, their second child, Robin, was diagnosed with leukemia — a disease for which there were few treatments at the time. The girl died two months before her fourth birthday, an ordeal that sent 28-year-old Barbara into depression and caused her reddish-brown hair to turn white, something she concealed for years using hair dye.

Struggling to overcome her grief, Barbara relied heavily on her husband and eldest son, George W., until one day when she heard her son tell a friend he couldn’t play because his mother needed him. “That started my cure,” she told her husband’s biographer Jon Meacham. “I realized I was too much of a burden for a little 7-year-old boy to carry.”

As her husband began his political ascent, which included a stint in Congress, time as head of the Republican Party, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, ambassador to the United Nations and the U.S. envoy to China, Barbara followed, but stayed mostly behind the scenes, taking care of the family. But she edged more into the spotlight when her husband decided to run for president in 1980, joining him on the road as a trusted companion and his most enthusiastic cheerleader in ways that often conflicted with her image as a docile housewife.

According to the Boston Globe, Barbara once barged into the paper’s New Hampshire bureau ahead of the 1980 primary demanding to know why reporters weren’t covering a press conference her husband was holding downstairs. Like a stern mother, she eventually marched a reporter and editor down to her husband’s event, which they covered.

During the 1984 campaign, she made waves when she slapped back at Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, for attacking her husband. Asked about her opinion of Ferraro, Bush told reporters, “I can’t say it, but it rhymes with rich.” (Afterward, she called and apologized to Ferraro, saying, “The poet laureate has retired.”)

But as she became more visible in her husband’s career, she became a target for jokes about her appearance. She had stopped dying her hair — joking that she just couldn’t get it that “perfect brown.” That prompted some to say she looked more like her husband’s mother than his wife — an insult friends say she found particularly wounding, though she didn’t let on in public.

On the campaign trail and later as first lady, she made light of the comments about her appearance, once dryly recalling how she saw a photographer frantically waving to “get that lady out the way” because he was trying to take a “beautiful picture” of Bush and his family, only to realize he was talking about her.

At the White House, Barbara Bush initially forged a more traditional role as first lady, embracing pet projects like promoting literacy and downplaying her political profile.

While she pointedly said she did not see herself as a “co-president” and often tried to steer clear of policy matters, Bush made clear that she had a mind of her own and was willing to express it to her husband. “I tell George what I think and no one else,” she told the Associated Press in 1988.  Her husband, in turn, branded his wife with the nickname “Miss Frank.”

27 PHOTOS
Barbara Bush as First Lady
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Barbara Bush as First Lady
WASHINGTON, DC -- NOVEMBER 9: (L-R) First Lady Nancy Reagan, President-Elect George H.W. Bush, President Ronald Reagan, Mrs. Barbara Bush, Vice President-Elect Dan Quayle, and Mrs. Marilyn Quayle at a welcoming ceremony at the Rose Garden on November 9, 1988 in Washington, DC. President-Elect Bush had just won the presidential election the day before. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES: President George H.W. Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush and Barbara Walters 1989 (Photo by Kimberly Butler/ABC via Getty Images)
First Lady Barbara Bush chatting with CBS anchorman Dan Rather framed by verdant shrubbery & winter-bare trees, on White House grounds, January 11, 1989. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 1/19/1989- Washington, DC- At a Kennedy Center 'Salute to the First Lady', Barbara Bush is given a sombrero by granddaughter Noelle Bush and then tries it on after Noelle played the accordion in a mariachi band.
First Lady Barbara Bush and US President George HW Bush hold hands and wave as they lead the Inaugural Parade along Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, January 20, 1989. (Photo by Ron Sachs/CNP/Getty Images)
First Lady Barbara Bush (C), sporting her signature pearls, greeting elderly patients at The Wash. Home, w. their Valentine's Day card to her in bkgrd. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Peking: Young Chinese girls takes a look with her toy camera as U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush tours the Forbidden City on Sunday. She was visiting the tourist attraction with her family.
First Lady Barbara Bush, sporting her signature pearls, cuddling w. trio of little girls at fete re Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Peking: U. S. First Lady Barbara Bush smiles with Chinese escort in traditional dress, during tea at Gong-Wang-Fu Tea House on Sunday.
Barbara Bush, wife of President George Bush, and her granddaughter, Marshall Lloyd Bush, with first dog Millie and her six newborn puppies. (Photo by David Valdez/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Pres. George Bush and First Lady Barbara (in sunglasses) riding in their Cigarette boat Fidelty w. an unident. man. (Photo by Susan Biddle/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Washington, DC: First Lady Barbara Bush is pictured with granddaughters Marshall (L) and Lauren (C) as they join the Easter Bunny on a White House balcony, 3/27.
First Lady Barbara Bush (R)(in red suit) bringing in pair of Millie's puppies from playtime on WH lawn, w. aide holding puppy carrier. (Photo by Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
American dancer, choreographer, and activist Katherine Dunham (1909 - 2006) (left) is awarded the National Medal of Arts by US First Lady Barbara Bush and President George HW Bush during a ceremony in the White House's East Room, Washington DC, November 19, 1989. (Photo by Ron Sachs/CNP/Getty Images)
Vice President Dan Quayle and First Lady Barbara Bush. (Photo by Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)
ABC NEWS - President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush in 1990. (Photo by Pete Souza/ABC via Getty Images)
First Lady Barbara Bush and U.S. President George Bush arrive in Helsinki in September 1990. President Bush will meet with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev during the Helsinki Summit, where the two leaders will discuss the Persian Gulf crisis. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Sygma via Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 17, 1990: First Lady Barbara Bush throws out the first pitch of Game 2 of the 1990 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics on October 17,1990 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
First Lady Barbara Bush (R) chatting up appreciative press audience on board Air Force One, destination Houston, TX. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
This file photo shows former First Lady Barbara Bush(L) talking to her dog Millie(C) as she and grandaughter Barbara Bush(R), age nine, wait for US President George Bush to return to the White House 13 September 1991, in Washington,DC. The President was undergoing a medical checkup at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. Grandaughter Barbara is the daughter of President George W. Bush. AFP PHOTO/Jennifer LAW (Photo credit should read JENNIFER LAW/AFP/Getty Images)
Washington, DC.6-23-1991 President George H.W. Bush returns to the White House via Marine One from Camp David and lands on the South Lawn. Accompanied by his son Marvin Bush and daughter Dora Bush and the First Lady Barbara Bush and the family dogs. Credit: Mark Reinstein (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 7: This file photo shows former US First Lady Barbara Bush (L) as she prepares to throw a rugby ball 07 February 1992,in Washington,DC, after receiving it from Mary Sullivan (R), captain of the US national women's rugby team. The US team, which won the World Cup, received the Team Spirit Award from Mrs. Bush. (Photo credit should read ROBERT GIROUX/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian First Lady Naina Yeltsin (L) and her summit hostess Barbara Bush (C) making bologna and cheese sandwiches for distribution to the homeless. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
US First Lady Barbara Bush and her son George Bush Jr attend the 1992 Republican National Convention on August 17, 1992 in Houston. AFP PHOTO CHRIS WILKINS (Photo credit should read CHRIS WILKINS/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President George Bush (L) and First Lady Barbara Bush play with confetti 20 August 1992 as it showered them at the 1992 Republican National Convention. The confetti and more than 100,000 balloons were dropped after the president concluded his speech. (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
First Lady Barbara Bush addressing Republican Natl. Convention. (Photo by Shelly Katz/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
First Lady Barbara Bush waving to crowd at campaign rally. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
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During the 1992 campaign, Bush emerged as one of her husband’s fiercest defenders on the campaign trail. She took on commentators who assailed her husband as a “wimp” and “out of touch” and presented him as a good and decent public servant who had been unfairly maligned by Clinton and other opponents.

For the first time, she also broke with her husband politically. She weighed in on issues like abortion, which she said should be a “personal choice” for women, and gun control, admitting that she was for it, while her husband was not. That year she delivered a primetime speech at the Republican National Convention — a first for any first lady in history in what has since become tradition for both parties.

Though her husband lost, Barbara Bush continued her role as a blunt grandma right into private life and in her kids’ political campaigns, as they tapped her as a greater asset than their father. When her oldest son, George W. Bush, began his ascent up the political ladder, first as governor of Texas and then as the nation’s 43rd president, he often told reporters that he had inherited his “daddy’s eyes” and his “mama’s mouth.”

Bush’s passing brings an end to one of the most epic romances in politics. The couple celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in early January. She leaves behind five kids, 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

35 PHOTOS
Barbara and George H.W. Bush through the years
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Barbara and George H.W. Bush through the years

Pres. George Bush and First Lady Barbara (in sunglasses) riding in their Cigarette boat Fidelty w. an unident. man.

(Photo by Susan Biddle/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

George and Barbara Bush with their four boys: George W., Neil, Jeb and Marvin.

(Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Sygma via Getty Images)

George Herbert Walker Bush poses with his wife Barbara during his campaign for Congress in the 1960's. Born 12 June 1924 in Milton, Massachussetts, George Bush Yale graduated with a degree in Economics in 1948, made a fortune drilling oil before entering politics in 1964. US Congressman from Texas (1966-1970), ambassador to the United nations (1971-1974), Special Envoy to China (1974-1975), Republican National Chairman (1975-1976), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director (1976-1977), vice president of the US (1981-1959) George Bush is eventually elected president of the US 08 November 1988 against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.

(AFP/Getty Images)

George Herbert Walker Bush poses with his wife Barbara in Beijing in 1974. Born 12 June 1924 in Milton, Massachussetts, George Bush Yale graduated with a degree in Economics in 1948, made a fortune drilling oil before entering politics in 1964. US Congressman from Texas (1966-1970), ambassador to the United nations (1971-1974), Special Envoy to China (1974-1975), Republican National Chairman (1975-1976), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director (1976-1977), vice president of the US (1981-1959) George Bush is eventually elected president of the US 08 November 1988 against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.

(AFP/Getty Images)

President Gerald R. Ford and Barbara Bush watch as Justice Potter Stewart swears in George H.W. Bush as the new Director of the CIA, at CIA HQ in Langley, Virginia, January 26, 1976. The outgoing Director William Colby is at the left in the background.

(Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

Republican Presidential candidate George Bush, wearing a t-shirt referencing his son George W. Bush, stands with his wife Barbara November 1978 in Texas, USA. Bush is campaigning for the presidential primary elections.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/Liaison)

Republican Presidential candidate George Bush looks at his wife Barbara November 1, 1978 in Hoston, TX. Bush is campaigning for the presidential primary elections.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/Liaison)

Vice President George Bush and his wife Barbara attend the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans. Bush won the 1988 United States presidential election over democratic challenger Michael Dukakis.

(Shepard Sherbell/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images)

Barbara Bush stands with Vice President George Bush, who is holding their grandchild during the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana.

(Shepard Sherbell/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images)

Pres. & signature pearls wearing Barbara Bush interacting affectionately during awards ceremony in WH East Rm.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush stand at the South Portico of the White House awaiting the arrival of Diplomatic guest.

(Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Pres. & Barbara Bush waving before boarding pres. plane, leaving Italy.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

President George Bush and Barbara Bush during Chris Evert Celebrity Tennis Classic at Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, Florida, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara celebrate with George W. Bush and his wife Laura, after the networks declared George W. Bush the winner of the US presidential election.

(Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush attend a portrait unveiling at the George Bush Library April 21, 2003 in College Station, Texas. A painting of the father/son presidents went on display.

(Photo by Joe Mitchell/Getty Images)

Barbara Bush and her husband 41st President George H Bush watch Andy Roddick play Rainer Schuettler of Germany during the Tennis Masters Cup November 13, 2003 at the Westside Tennis Club in Houston, Texas.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Former First Lady Barbara Bush, right, and another person react shortly after former President George H. W. Bush received a lapel pin referencing director Michael Moore on the second day of the Republican National Convention in New York, August 31, 2004.

(Photo by Dennis Brack/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

American politician (and future US President) George HW Bush speaks at an event during his campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination, Iowa, January 1980. His wife, future First Lady Barbara Bush, stands beside him.

(Photo Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)

Former US President George H.W. Bush (L) with wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, and grand-daughters Barbara (L) and Jenna, wave as they walk through the Rotunda on Capitol Hill 20 January, 2005. With a pledge to battle terrorism and promote democracy around the world, US President George W. Bush was to launch his new term today under an unprecedented security blanket and a dusting of snow. Bush, 58, was to be sworn in outside the US Capitol at noon (1700 GMT), in the 55th US presidential swearing-in and the first since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that transformed his time in office.

(ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Barbara Bush (L) wipes water off the shoulder of her husband former US president George Bush (R) during the inauguration of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, 18 November 2004. Constant rain fell during the opening ceremony of the center which contains some 76.8 million pages of paper documents, 1.85 million photographs and over 75,000 museum artifacts from Clinton's eight years in the White House.

(ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

NBC NEWS -- 'Ronald Reagan First Presidential Inauguration'

Pictured: (l-r) U.S. Vice President George Bush, Second Lady Barbara Bush during the first inauguration of President Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1981 in Washington D.C.

(Photo by: NBC News/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Vice President George Bush stands with his wife Barbara August 1983 in Kennebunkport, ME. Bush is vacationing in Maine with his family.

(Photo by Cynthia Johnson/Liaison)

Former President George H.W. Bush reacts alongside Barbara Bush as their son, President George W. Bush delivers the commencement address during the Texas A&M University graduation ceremony at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas, on December 12, 2008.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Former President George H.W. Byush and Mrs. Barbara Bush
 

(Photo By Jerry Cleveland/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Former US president George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara arrive for the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th US president at the Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2009.

(PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Former US president George H.W. Bush (C) and his wife Barbara (L) step off Air Force One with their grandaughter Barbara (R), the daughter of US President George W. Bush, step off Air Force One May 11, 2008 upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. US President George W. Bush and his family were returning to Washington, DC after attending the wedding of his daughter Jenna at his Crawford, Texas ranch.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

US President George W. Bush (R), his mother Barbara Bush (2R), former President George H. W. Bush (C), First Lady Laura Bush (3L) and her mother Jenna Welch (2r) wave as they arrive at Fort Hood, Texas, for Easter Service 08 April 2007.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Former first lady Barbara Bush waives to friends as former President George H.W. Bush, right, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III look on during a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 13, 2011 in Houston, Texas.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Former President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara watch the game between the Colorado Rockies and the Houston Astros on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park on April 6, 2012 in Houston, Texas.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Film Subject President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Mrs. Barbara Bush attend the HBO Documentary special screening of '41' on June 12, 2012 in Kennebunkport, Maine.

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO)

From left US President Barack Obama, former first lady Barbara Bush, former US President George H. W. Bush and former US President George W. Bush say an opening prayer during a dedication ceremony at the George W. Bush Library and Museum on the grounds of Southern Methodist University 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.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Former President George H.W. Bush and Former First Lady Barbara Bush meet with Andrea Bocelli and wife Veronica Bocelli before his concert at Toyota Center on December 11, 2016 in Houston, Texas.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Former President George H.W. Bush (R) and former First Lady Barbara Bush give the thumbs-up from inside the presidential viewing stand overlooking Pennsylania Avenue during the Inaugural Parade 20 January 2005 in Washington, DC. In the 55th US presidential inauguration and the first since the September 11, 2001 attacks, Bush solemnly took the oath of office and declared that defeating terrorism required embracing a global mission to foment democracy.

(STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Former First Lady Barbara Bush and former President George H.W. Bush look on during a game between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Duke Blue Devils during the South Regional Final of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at NRG Stadium on March 29, 2015 in Houston, Texas. Duke won 66-52.

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush are introduced prior to game three of the American League Division Series between the Houston Astros and the Kansas City Royals at Minute Maid Park on October 11, 2015 in Houston, Texas.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

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