Former First Lady Barbara Bush died today at age 92.
Her death came just two days after her family announced that she was in failing health and would not seek further medical treatment. She had been hospitalized several times for congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. She died at her home in Houston, surrounded by family, ABC News reports.
She and her husband, Republican President George H.W. Bush, were not known as great LGBT allies, but they were apparently far more accepting than many members of their party. In 2013 they attended the wedding of a lesbian couple, Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, who were longtime friends of theirs, and the former president signed the marriage certificate as an official witness.
At the time, Clement and Thorgalsen said they were “honored to have President and Mrs. Bush not only in attendance but also happy to sign our license.” A spokesman for the Bush family would not comment on the former president’s position on marriage equality and simply said the wedding, which took place in Maine, was a “private ceremony for two friends.” Two of the Bush sons, former President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, made opposition to marriage equality a cornerstone of their political careers.
Attending the same-sex wedding brought the elder Bushes criticism from some religious conservatives, such as Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who said that mere attendance constituted endorsement of equal marriage rights.
As Ronald Reagan’s vice president from 1981 to 1989, and as president from 1989 to 1993, George H.W. Bush courted members of the religious right but never seemed quite comfortable with them, and some of them regarded him with suspicion, as he was a patrician northeasterner who had taken some moderate stances. Barbara Bush played a traditional, largely nonpolitical role as first lady. She was a champion of children’s literacy, having founded the Barbara Bush Family Literacy Foundation in 1989, and she wrote two books about Bush family pets.
She was born Barbara Pierce in New York City in 1925, and was a descendant of Franklin Pierce, a Democrat who was U.S. president from 1853 to 1857. She attended Smith College but dropped out to marry George H.W. Bush in 1945.
He survives, as do five of their children: George W., Jeb, Marvin, Neil, and Dorothy. A sixth child, Pauline Robinson Bush, nicknamed Robin, died of leukemia in 1953, at age 3. This led Barbara Bush to do extensive volunteer work for cancer research.
She was generally a noncontroversial figure, but she did make a few statements that drew criticism. In the 1984 election, with the Reagan-Bush ticket running against Democrat Walter Mondale and the first female major-party vice-presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, Barbara Bush described Ferraro by saying, “I can’t say it, but it rhymes with rich.” She later apologized to Ferraro.
Then in 2010, she gave a backhanded compliment to a more conservative woman who ran for vice president, John McCain’s 2008 running mate, Sarah Palin: “I sat next to her once. Thought she was beautiful, and I think she’s very happy in Alaska and I hope she’ll stay there.”
She also thought little of Donald Trump. "He doesn't give many answers to how he would solve problems. He sort of makes faces and says insulting things," she said of him early in 2016, when her son Jeb was running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. "He's said terrible things about women, terrible things about the military. I don't understand why people are for him, for that reason."