Georgetowners Remember Barbara Bush

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Barbara Bush greets a patient at Children's National in D.C. in 1990. National Archives and Records Administration.

As flags across Washington were lowered to half-staff in honor of Barbara Bush, residents, tourists and children signed a condolence book at the White House Visitor Center.

A photo of the former first lady, who died April 17 at age 92, was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery under the words “In Memoriam.” It shows her on the White House lawn with one of her loyal spaniels.

Barbara Bush will be laid to rest Saturday, April 21, in her adopted city of Houston. Georgetowner Boyden Gray will be among the mourners present at the funeral.

Gray started working for the Bush family as a lawyer in 1980, staying in touch with the first couple after they left office.

“She had it all,” he said, referring to Barbara Bush’s rare blend of grace, humor and strength. “She was so politically astute without being meddling. She never forgot that the reason she was in the middle of everything and experienced so much was because of her husband.”

Barbara Bush married George H. W. Bush when she was only a teenager. They were a couple for more than 70 years, forming the longest presidential marriage in American history, and created a dynastic clan of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Gray said they treated staff like family.

“I was a single dad at the time I started working with them, and she treated my daughter, Eliza, like she was a grandchild.”

Speechwriter Mary Kate Cary, a new Georgetown resident, recalled in a Washington Post opinion piece that Barbara Bush took under her wing a nearly deaf orphan, keeping him on the family payroll until his death. “They were as generous to Don as they were quiet about it,” she wrote.

Gray recounted talking to some children about his work at the White House. One little boy asked him what he did. “I’m the president’s general counsel,” he replied. “Oh, so you work for the husband of Barbara Bush?” the child asked. “In many ways, she was more popular that her husband,” Gray said.

Popular and protective. Georgetowner and controversial biographer Kitty Kelley described how Barbara Bush had her books removed from the First Ladies gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History by leaning on a managerial-level bureaucrat.

“I guess Barbara Bush showed how political muscle is flexed in Washington,” Kelley said.

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