Laughter, Tears as Former First Lady Barbara Bush Remembered

HOUSTON (AP) -
The hearse carrying former first lady Barbara Bush passes through members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets as it nears her husband’s presidential library at the university on Saturday, in College Station, Texas.. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

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 a Houston 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 raising him and his siblings “‘a benevolent dictatorship’ — but honestly, it wasn’t always benevolent.” She was widely admired for her plainspoken style during her husband George H.W. Bush’s presidency and was known as “The Enforcer” in her high-powered family.

Jeb Bush said he could feel her presence at the funeral and that she would likely have given him advice: “Jeb, keep it short. Don’t drag this out,” he said to chuckles. He met her expectations with a speech lasting about seven minutes.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2015 biography on the former president, recalled during his eulogy Barbara Bush’s devotion to her husband of 73 years. Theirs was the longest marriage of any presidential couple.

“Barbara Bush was the first lady of the Greatest Generation,” Meacham said, a nod to the generation that fought in World War II.

The couple’s family, including their five children, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, played prominent roles in the service. Granddaughters offered readings, some of their voices shaky with emotion, while their eight grandsons were pallbearers.

The Bush family was seated in front. 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.

As the funeral ended, George H.W. Bush was pushed in his wheelchair by another son, former President George W. Bush, as they followed the casket out of the cavernous sanctuary, which had been adorned with sprays of yellow garden roses, yellow snap dragons and antique hydrangeas.

Barbara Bush was buried Saturday afternoon at her husband’s presidential library at Texas A&M University in College Station, about 100 miles northwest of Houston. The burial site is in a gated plot surrounded by trees and near a creek where the couple’s 3-year-old daughter Robin is buried. She died of leukemia in 1953.

“It was a very brief but poignant and beautiful ending to a very moving and incredible day. It would have been exactly what Barbara Bush wanted,” family spokesman Jim McGrath said.

Hundreds of people lined both sides of the street near the campus as the funeral procession passed on a gray, cloudy day. Flags were flown at half-staff.

Melania Trump said in a statement it was an honor to give her respects to a “fearless” first lady, adding: “Today the world paid tribute to a woman of indisputable character and grace.” President Donald Trump didn’t attend to avoid security disruptions, according to the White House, but he released a statement saying his thoughts were with the family.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, also didn’t attend because he was traveling overseas and she was recovering from surgery, according to the Carter Center.