|College Station, TX||March 12, 2019|
On the campus of Texas A&M University, behind the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum and beyond a small lake, a bridge crosses White Creek and leads to a serene pathway. At its end sits a plot surrounded with Texas limestone. That is the final resting place of former First Lady Barbara Bush and her husband, former President George H.W. Bush.
Mrs. Bush is laid to rest alongside the 41st president and their elder daughter, Pauline Robinson. Robin, as they called her, was diagnosed with advanced leukemia at the tender age of three. George and Barbara did all they could to save their child, but she died in October 1953, six months after her diagnosis. The harrowing ordeal likely factored into Mrs. Bush’s distinctive hair color, which began to turn white prematurely that year when she was twenty-eight years old. Before her remains were reinterred at the Bush Library in 2000, Robin was buried in the family plot within Putnam Cemetery in Greenwich, Connecticut. When the former first lady died in 2018, some people liked to think that mother and daughter were reunited not only in the Bush Library burial plot but in the afterlife as well. An editorial cartoon of the pair greeting each other in Heaven was promoted on social media by Bush’s granddaughter, Today Show anchor Jenna Bush Hager, and went viral. The artist, Marshall Ramsey of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, drew a follow-up when George Bush passed away seven months afterward.
From left to right, the footstones of Robin, George, and Barbara Bush. The daughter’s original marker was flush with the ground and read only, “Robin 1949-1953.” The current memorial — inscribed with her full name, nickname, and dates — was installed along with her mother’s in spring 2018. The markers were made by Wilbert Funeral Services, Inc. of Parsons, Kansas. Wilbert also crafted the former president’s headstone cross, the design of which corresponds with those that decorate the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. George Bush was a pilot in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He named his plane after his sweetheart, Barbara, who was at the time was studying stateside at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
In modern times, U.S. first ladies have often advocated for special causes. Barbara Bush was a staunch advocate of improving literacy rates among both children and adults. Mrs. Bush regarded literacy as “the most important issue we have,” and launched the non-profit Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy in March 1989. Her daughter-in-law, Laura Bush, was once a librarian and fittingly made literacy her primary public cause as well when she was first lady from 2001 to 2009.
My father and I visited the Bush Library in rather quick order after the passing of the Bushes — just under eleven months from when the first lady died, and three and a half months following the death of the president. The recency factored into our inability to obtain special permission to enter the plot for closer photographs. The library director, Warren Finch, was still very kind and invited me to return to the campus for a book signing in the event that the memoir I had drafted about my presidential gravesite travels were published.
“I want to be known as a wife, a mother, a grandmother. That’s what I am. And I’d like to be known as someone who really cared about people and worked very, very hard to make America more literate.”
- Barbara Bush
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Lamb, Brian and the staff of C-SPAN. Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb? A Tour of Presidential Gravesites. Rev. ed. New York: Public Affairs, 2003.
Nemy, Enid. “Barbara Bush, Wife of 41st President and Mother of 43rd, Dies at 92.” New York Times. April 17, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/17/us/barbara-bush-dead.html.
Willey, Jamie. “Wilbert makes markers for Bush’s grave.” Parsons Sun. December 10, 2018. https://www.parsonssun.com/news/article_3debf782-fd06-11e8-b26c-ffd6e5586185.html.