Barbara Bush was ‘first lady of the greatest generation’
Barbara Bush was remembered as the “first lady of the greatest generation” during a funeral Saturday attended by four former U.S. presidents and hundreds of other people who filled the church with laughter as much as tears, with many recalling her quick wit and devotion to family.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush joked that his mother called her style of mothering him and his siblings “a benevolent dictatorship – but honestly, it wasn’t always benevolent.” He emphasized how she believed in the power of laughter and that joy should be shared.
He said he could still feel her presence Saturday inside the nation’s largest Episcopal church, and she would likely have given him advice on his eulogy: “Jeb, keep it short. Don’t drag this out,” he said. He met her expectations with a speech lasting about seven minutes.
He choked up at one point while addressing the roughly 1,500 people seated inside the St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, where his parents regularly worshipped, when saying his mother – who was known for her self-deprecating remarks about her wrinkles and gray hair – was “beautiful” until the very end.
He said he felt privileged that he had a “front row” seat to the incredible love story shared by his mother and father, former President George H.W. Bush, who laughed as longtime friends and family recalled his wife’s wicked sense of humor during the nearly two-hour service. After he spoke, Jeb Bush walked over to his father, and hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.
Presidential historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2015 biography on the former president, recalled Barbara Bush’s devotion to her husband of 73 years, noting former George H.W. Bush is the “only boy she ever kissed.”
Theirs was the longest marriage of any other presidential couple. One of just two first ladies to have a child elected president, Barbara Bush was widely admired for her plainspoken style and was known as the “Enforcer” in her family, the glue who kept the high-powered clan together.
“Barbara Bush was the first lady of the greatest generation,” Meacham said during his eulogy.
The couple’s family, including their five children, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, played a prominent role in the service. Granddaughters offered readings, some their voices shaky with emotion, while their eight grandsons were pallbearers.
The Bush family was seated in front of the church. Nearby, two other former presidents – Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – along with their wives and current first lady Melania Trump were seated in the same pew. The invitation-only service was also attended by former ambassadors, members of Congress, sports stars and Houston business owners.