Former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush will be remembered for a myriad of different things following their deaths, but perhaps one of the most enduring and endearing qualities about the political pair is their love story, a rare tale that spans over seven decades.
The couple met back when George was 17 and Barbara was 16, at a Christmas dance in Greenwich, Conn., just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. According to George, though he was never great at recalling what people wore, he remembered in great detail what Barbara wore that night: a green and red holiday dress. He asked a friend to introduce him to the young woman, and during the next dance, a waltz, they spent the whole time talking to one another.
“Since I didn’t waltz, we sat the dance out,” George wrote in his autobiography. “And several more after that, talking and getting to know each other. It was a storybook meeting.”
From there, the pair began their courtship, though because Barbara was attending a boarding school in South Carolina at the time, and George was a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., they had to start their storied romance at a distance.
Then, they were further separated because of World War II. George was drafted into the Navy, and the pair kept up their relationship through handwritten letters. When they were reunited during one of George’s leaves in August 1943, they got engaged; they married about a year and a half after that, on January 6, 1945.
They remained happily and devotedly married until Barbara’s death earlier this year at the age of 92.
Below are five things we’ve learned from their decades-long relationship and marriage.
Laughter and Dancing Are Key
It’s important to note that though George and Barbara met at a Christmas dance, they didn’t necessarily dance that night. They did, however, begin a lifelong, choreographed waltz together, one that was always filled with laughter.
“One of the reasons I made the most important decision of my life, to marry George Bush, is because he made me laugh,” Barbara said during a 1990 commencement speech at Wellsley College. “Find the joy in life, because as Ferris Bueller said on his day off, ‘Life moves pretty fast; and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you’re going to miss it.’”
Handwritten Letters Are Priceless
When the pair was separated by distance, they kept up their relationship via the magic of handwritten letters.
In a 2011 interview with the couple’s granddaughter, Jenna Bush Hager, the former president revealed that the written missives “were everything,” and said that he would wait eagerly during every mail call for someone to yell “Bush!” One particularly touching letter dated Dec. 12, 1943, reads in part: “I love you precious with all my heart, and to know that you love me, means my life.”
Gratitude and Praise Endlessly Does Wonders
Neither Barbara nor George have ever been shy about expressing their love and admiration for one another, most especially in the public realm. Barbara famously recalled that George was “the most beautiful creature [she] had ever laid eyes on” when the pair met for the first time at that fateful Christmas dance back in 1941. “I couldn’t even breathe when he was in the room,” she said.
And in July 2017, when presidential historian Jon Meacham sat down with the couple and talk turned to WWII and when George’s plane was shot down and he survived while his two crew mates were killed, the former president very calmly and very confidently said that Barbara was the reason he survived that incident.
Remember: Never Go to Bed Angry
Sometimes the best advice is the simplest. Over the course of their 73 years of marriage, George and Barbara came up with several rules to live by, and making sure to always clear the air before bedtime was one of them. “Never go to bed angry and stay angry,” he said during a 2012 interview with Diane Sawyer. “You never stay angry. That’s good advice for married folks. You’re gonna fight. You’re gonna have fights I’m sure. But … don’t go to sleep being angry.”
Stick Together No Matter What
At the end of Barbara’s life, she was hospitalized, and George was always by her side; their son Jeb once joked that George had intentionally gotten sick just so that he could spend more time with her.
According to Jeb, George “looked like hell” during that hospital stay, with a breathing mask on his face and his hair all disheveled. When Barbara woke up to him sitting next to her, however, she took one look at her husband and said, “My God, George, you are devastatingly handsome!” The doctors and nurses had to leave the room so as not to cry. Jeb also said that in his last conversation with his mother, he had asked her how she felt about death. “I don’t want to leave your dad,” she said. “But I know I will be in a beautiful place.”
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