"It will not surprise those who know her that Barbara Bush has been a rock in the face of her failing health, worrying not for herself–thanks to her abiding faith–but for others. She is surrounded by a family she adores, and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving."
With these words, a family spokesman announced yesterday that Mrs. Bush has decided to end medical treatment and will focus on comfort care.
Tributes to the former first lady have already begun.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley called her "a woman of great faith, great strength, and an unwavering love of country." On the other side of the political spectrum, Chelsea Clinton tweeted, "I will never forget how kind she was to me on every occasion we met, and how fondly the White House staff always spoke of her."
I know of no more universally admired person in American politics than Barbara Bush. Conversely, I know of no more polarizing person than the other political figure making headlines today.
James Comey was interviewed last night by ABC's George Stephanopoulos. The former FBI director is promoting his new book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. I watched the interview and am not surprised that reaction fell on partisan lines.
Whatever your thoughts on Mr. Comey, it's clear that our nation's politics are deeply divisive. In the decades after George H. W. Bush served as president, political animosity in America has increased exponentially.
In times like these, we need the example of Barbara Bush.
A tragedy that changed her life
Janet and I were deeply honored to meet Mrs. Bush when she spoke at Dallas Baptist University's Russell Perry Award dinner in 2001. She was as gracious in private as she was in public. As the wife of one president and mother of another, she is famous the world over for her courage, compassion, and humor.
The Washington Post has an insightful story about Barbara Bush and her family that helps explain her remarkable character.
The daughter of a New York publishing executive, she met her future husband in 1941 at a country club dance in Greenwich, Connecticut. She was sixteen years old. They became engaged in the summer of 1943 and were married in 1945. Their first son, George Walker Bush, was born on July 6, 1946, as his father was completing his studies at Yale.
Two years later, they moved to Odessa, a town in West Texas. They were transferred briefly to California before moving to Midland, where their family settled into the oil business.
In 1953, their three-year-old daughter, Robin, fell ill with leukemia. Eight months later, she died.
Barbara Bush was twenty-eight. The tragedy turned her hair white and has marked her family for the rest of their lives.
Faith, family, and service
She later explained what sustained her through the worst pain a mother can know: "We believed in God and that made an enormous difference in our lives then and now." She also said, "Because of Robin, George and I love every living human more."
Her life priorities–faith, family, service–have inspired millions since.
Given her lifelong love for America, it is not surprising that Barbara Bush was a direct descendant of a Mayflower immigrant.
After her husband's highly decorated military service and successful business career, the couple entered a life of public service that led to his nomination in 1988 for president. Mrs. Bush became the first candidate's spouse to address the convention that nominated her husband. After his election, they hosted the first open house inaugural reception since President Taft in 1909.
Her love of reading was encouraged early by her father. Childhood evenings were spent with family members reading together. In 1989, she formed the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, noting that "the home is the child's first school, the parent is the child's first teacher, and reading is the child's first subject."
She has been especially noted for her sense of humor. Speaking to Wellesley College graduates in 1990, she stated, "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!"
When she and her husband returned to private life in 1992, she said, "It's been different. I started driving again. I started cooking again. My driving's better than my cooking."
"Let your light shine"
This morning's national coverage of Barbara Bush's failing health reveals something about us: despite today's political divisiveness, we respond intuitively to character, courage, and humor.
When we see a person living out her faith under decades of public scrutiny, we are drawn to her example and to her Lord.
Jesus taught us to "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Faith, family, and service have been Barbara Bush's lifelong priorities.
What "good works" will you do to glorify God today?