Barbara Bush’s legacy had its start in Flushing

By Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the Times–Ledger newspaper presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

Born on June 8, 1925 at Booth Memorial Hospital in Flushing, Queens, Barbara Pierce Bush was first lady of the United States during the Presidency of George H.W. Bush. Prior to the 1989-1993 Bush Presidency, the Queens native served as second lady during the Reagan years.

Coming from a family tree steeped in presidential history, Barbara Bush is a descendant of President Franklin Pierce and is the only American woman aside from Abigail Adams to be both a wife and a mother of a president of the United States. Not only is she the mother of the 43rd President, George W. Bush, but also of the 43rd governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, who ran for president on the Republican ticket in the 2016 elections. During her time as first lady, she founded the Barbara Bush Foundation to encourage reading and increase literacy.

The future Barbara Bush was raised in Rye, N.Y., the third child of Pauline and Marvin Pierce. Her father was president of the McCall Corporation, a women’s magazine publisher. During her time at boarding school at Ashley Hall in Charleston, S.C., she met a handsome young man at a dance during Christmas break. Barbara Pierce later married that man, a naval aviator named George Bush, in early 1945.

After World War II, the young couple settled down to domestic life, although they have moved some 20 times in their marriage due to George Bush’s business and political career. Barbara Bush had six children, including Pauline, who tragically died of leukemia at age 3 in 1953.

First putting down roots in Texas, Barbara Bush was at her husband’s side at every step of his rapidly rising political career. When not looking after the young Bush brood, she immersed herself in charities and Republican women’s groups in Washington after George’s election to the House of Representatives in 1966. Following a series of political appointments in Washington and New York, the Bushes made their first foray overseas when George Bush became the head of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People’s Republic of China.

After returning stateside, George decided to run for president in 1980. Barbara Bush caused a stir among Republicans when she declared her support for the Equal Rights Amendment and staked out a pro-choice position on abortion. Nevertheless, Ronald Reagan selected George Bush as his vice president, and the Bushes formed a winning ticket with President Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan, also a native of Flushing.

After the vice president declared his candidacy for the Presidency in 1988, Barbara Bush joined George on the campaign trail and became only the second candidate’s spouse to speak at the party convention nominating her husband. On the campaign trail and later in the White House, the first lady placed emphasis on traditional family activities such as church and was known across the nation for her grandmotherly white hair and disinterest in designer clothing. She summed up her traditional views of work and family life by stating “I don’t fool around with his office,” speaking of her husband, “and he doesn’t fool around with my household.”

Descendant of a president, second Lady, first lady, first mother. Pillar of strength to a family engaged in generations of public service. No one could have foreseen the whirlwind of a life that awaited a baby named Barbara Pierce when she entered the world 91 years ago this month. Nowadays, the Bushes split their time between Houston and Kennebunkport, Me. Barbara Bush is still engaged in philanthropy, serving on the boards of AmeriCares and the Mayo Clinic, and continues her fight for literacy with the Barbara Bush Foundation.

Notable Quote: At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit their website at www.astorialic.org.