Former First Lady Barbara Bush Dies At 92
NOEL KING, HOST:
Former first lady Barbara Bush has died at the age of 92. She'll go down in history as one of only two women to be the wife of one president and the mother of another. She was known for promoting the importance of family. Here she is talking about her husband of 73 years, former President George H.W. Bush.
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BARBARA BUSH: George Bush gave me the greatest life ever any living human could have ever had, truthfully.
KING: NPR commentator Cokie Roberts is with us now. Good morning, Cokie.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: Cokie, you knew Barbara Bush. You spent some time interviewing her over the years. What was she like?
ROBERTS: Well, she was exactly as she comes across to the public. Feisty, frank and sometimes saying things that took you aback. I mean, she told me at one point that my hair just desperately needed attention.
ROBERTS: And of course she was right, but it was somewhat shocking. But, you know, she was also very, very committed to her family, as you said, but also to her country and understood that as first lady that she had a pulpit. It's something that Lady Bird Johnson said to all of her successors. You have a pulpit, and you need to use it when you can. And Barbara Bush took that advice to heart and started a literacy program that is now in 12 states and is 160 programs in educating adults and children all over the country. Because she felt strongly in the American dream, that it could come true, but it could only come true if you could read and write.
KING: And do you think that'll be her legacy, the literacy program?
ROBERTS: I think that's her strongest legacy, and she wanted it to be. I'm actually doing an event for it soon with other authors because she wants to make sure that it continues well past her life. But, you know, interviewing her could be somewhat tricky. The first time I ever did, she was in the vice president's mansion and George, her husband, was running for president. And I had an assignment from Seventeen magazine to interview her and Mrs. Dukakis. I got there and she said, 17? Why am I doing this? They can't vote.
KING: Give them another year.
ROBERTS: (Laughter). Exactly. And then the second time I sort of formally interviewed her was with Laura Bush, when George W. Bush was running for president. And this interview was late '99, and it was the first time the two of them had been interviewed together. And Laura Bush was somewhat concerned with sitting down with her formidable and frank mother-in-law. (Laughter). And anytime I'd ask anything that was a little bit controversial, Mrs. Bush senior would say, don't answer that, Laura. Don't get in trouble. If anybody's going to get in trouble here, it'll be me. By the way, that interview took place in her house in Houston on a needlepoint rug that was this embassy-sized rug that she had needlepoint herself.
KING: Wow. How did such a formidable and frank woman feel about being part of one of the most prominent political families in the country?
ROBERTS: Well, she loved George Bush, as she said in that clip we just heard. And at one point, my colleague from ABC, Charlie Gibson, was at Kennebunkport, and there was a young couple walking past the window. And he said, who are they? And she said, they're some Bushes. And he said, was it intimidating growing - having all these Bushes around? And she said, I only noticed one, George. I was so in love that he was the only person I ever saw. And that continued until the moment she died. Her son, who was president, was very concerned at one point about what his father would do if his mother went first.
KING: Commentator Cokie Roberts, we have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us.
ROBERTS: Good to talk to you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.