When George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, his mother Barbara became the second American woman in history to be a Second Lady, a First Lady, and the mother of another president, following Abigail Adams in this rare distinction. But Barbara Bush's contribution to history is much more involved than her relationship to her husband, George H. W. Bush, and her son. Driven by her devotion to family literacy and volunteerism, Barbara Bush became an American legacy in her own right — and her words have endured long after she left the White House.
George and Barbara Bush were married for 73 years, had six children, 17 grandchildren (including granddaughter Barbara Bush, who was named after her grandmother), and nine great-grandchildren. It’s fair to say that Barbara Bush knew a thing or two about the value of family. She focused on the family unit as the main component of a successful life, and accordingly, a successful country. While several of Barbara Bush's family quotes may feel poignant, you'll find a trace of her trademark wit as well.
- "To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there." - 1992 Republican National Convention address
- "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." - 1990 Wellesley College commencement address
- "As important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer or business leader will be, you are a human being first and those human connections — with spouses, with children, with friends — are the most important investments you will ever make." - from a 1990 Wellesley College commencement address
- "If you have a lot of tension and you get a headache, do what it says on the aspirin bottle: 'Take two aspirin' and 'Keep away from children.'" - Pearls of Wisdom, a collection of Barbara Bush's correspondence
- “Love brings a tear. Friends bring a tear. A smile, sweetness, even a kind word brings a tear. In a life of privilege there are lots of tears.” - Barbara Bush: A Memoir
- "Where will our country find leaders with integrity, courage, strength, all the family values in 10, 20 or 30 years? The answer is that you are teaching them, loving them and raising them right now." - 1992 Republican National Convention address
- "My mother ... often talked about 'when her ship came in' she was going to do such and such or buy such and such. She was a lucky woman who had a husband who worshiped the ground she walked on, four loving children, and a world of friends. Her ship had come in — she just didn't know it." - Barbara Bush: A Memoir
- "The goal is to find the balance between going after your dreams AND finding happiness in what you have." - Pearls of Wisdom
Barbara Bush's passion for extending literacy to all Americans brought educational inequality to national attention. From forming the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy to speaking out for community volunteerism, Barbara Bush consistently spoke out on the importance of hard work and reading to children.
- "The American Dream is about equal opportunity for everyone who works hard. If we don't give everyone the ability to simply read and write, then we aren't giving everyone an equal chance to succeed." - from a speech on family literacy
- "You must read to your children and you must hug your children and you must love your children. Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens inside your house.” - 1990 Wellesley College commencement address
- "Libraries have always seemed like the richest places in the world to me, and I’ve done some of my best learning and thinking thanks to them. Libraries and librarians have definitely changed my life, and the lives of countless other Americans." - Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation
- "If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather than dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities." - from Barbara Bush's biography page
- "The home is the child’s first school, the parent is the child’s first teacher, and reading is the child’s first subject." - from the White House launch of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy
- "If more people could read, write, and comprehend, we could be much closer to solving so many of the other problems our country faces today." - 1990 Wellesley College commencement address
- "Some people give time, some money, some their skills and connections, some literally give their life’s blood. But everyone has something to give." - Wit & Wisdom of America's First Ladies
Although Barbara Bush spent decades in the political limelight of the Republican Party, she didn't define herself by the party's platform. You'd sooner find her in a church pew or at the family table than behind a debate podium — but that doesn't mean she didn't have opinions on American politics.
- "The personal things should be left out of platforms at conventions ... You can argue yourself blue in the face, and you’re not going to change each other’s minds. It’s a waste of your time and my time." - from an interview in TIME Magazine
- “You may think the president is all powerful, but he is not. He needs a lot of guidance from the Lord.” - at the Church of the Immaculate Conception Elementary School in 1991
- "Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president's spouse. I wish him well!" - from Bush's 1990 Wellesley College commencement address
- "My belief is that unless you're courageous enough to run for office yourself, you can tell your husband or your wife what you think quietly in your own private time, and then you present a united front. I believe in that. If I had run for office, I would hope George would pay me the same courtesy." - interview from NPR's Fresh Air
- "I don’t think that’s healthy for the country when anyone thinks their morals are better than anyone else’s." - to reporters during the 1992 presidential race
Whether she was guiding her children and grandchildren, American parents, or future first ladies, Barbara Bush always had a piece of advice to share. Traditional in nature, these sage, common-sense quotes resonate with generations of all ages.
- "A question I'm asked all the time: 'Did anyone tell you what to do, or give you any guidelines, when your husband was in government?' The answer is no. Certainly I was given advice on protocol, and occasionally on what to wear or not to wear, but, for the most part, I just depended on the manners my mother taught me." - from Barbara Bush: A Memoir
- "Avoid this crowd like the plague. And if they quote you, make damn sure they heard you." - to incoming First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1992, about a cluster of reporters
- "Treat everyone equally, don't look down on anyone, use your voices for good, read all the great books." - advice to granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager
- "I can think of no better lesson to teach you than to try — and oh boy, how hard it is — to always find the good in people and not the bad." - Pearls of Wisdom
- "You have two choices in life: You can like what you do, or you can dislike it. I have chosen to like it." - Barbara Bush: A Memoir
Barbara Bush's words of wisdom continue to guide American citizens and politicians today. If you'd like to read more about American First Ladies and their words of wisdom, check out:
- 31 Eleanor Roosevelt Quotes to Empower and Give Strength
- Which First Lady Was a Photographer?
- What Do POTUS, FLOTUS and SCOTUS Mean?