Barbara Bush Leaves Legacy of Championing Literacy

The matriarch of the Bush family is being remembered for her commitment to child and family literacy.

"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."  —Barbara Bush

When former first lady Barbara Bush died on Tuesday, literacy lost a great champion. During her time in the White House, she created the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and also helped push for the National Literacy Act, which was passed by her husband, President George H.W. Bush, in 1991. Her daughter-in-law, former teacher and librarian and first lady Laura Bush, also made literacy one of her public causes.

Photo credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

"I think my Ganny would have wanted us to remember her by picking up a book and reading to our child, grandchild, or finding an opinion different then our own," Jeb Bush, Jr. tweeted. Barbara Bush wrote two children's books: C. Fred's Story and Millie's Book, both from the perspective of the family dogs. (According to the book covers, she "edited" C. Fred's Story, and Millie's Book was dictated to her.) Bush also authored two memoirs. In an interview with NPR, her former editor, Lisa Drew, said that beyond being remembered as the wife of one president and mother of another, it was her passion and commitment to literacy that will be her legacy.

Photo: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

“I think her focus on literacy—which really drove her from the time she was the wife of the vice president—she felt she ought to have some kind of a focus on a mission and do something from her position of visibility," Drew told NPR. "She really said, 'You know, a lot of problems in this country could be solved if more people were literate. We've got to make people literate, because if they can get an education, we can make a lot of headway in a lot of areas.' So I think that is a really, really important legacy of hers.”

Photo credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

In tweets of tribute and condolences, her biggest cause was repeatedly mentioned. “Throughout her life, Barbara Bush showed us all the importance of charity, literacy, and love of country,” Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted. Senator Dianne Feinstein tweeted, "Barbara Bush served her country and led her family with dignity and grace. She made children's literacy a lifelong cause and improved so many lives." Former congressman John Boehner wrote, "From her scrappy demeanor and no-frills style to her boundless passion for family, literacy and freedom, Barbara Bush was America at its best."

Photo credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Bush's thoughts on the issue and goals for her foundation are summed up on the foundation's website. "Our founder and former First Lady Barbara Bush believes that family literacy is key to solving today’s most critical challenges: social and economic mobility, quality of life, and global competitiveness," it reads. "In 1989, Barbara Bush pioneered the national family literacy movement, launching the Foundation that focuses simultaneously on early childhood education for preschoolers and adult literacy for their parents. "Created to support the development and expansion of family literacy programs in settings where parents and children read and learn together, the Foundation’s mission was to: • Establish literacy as a value in every family in America by helping parents understand that the home is the child’s first school, the parent is the child’s first teacher, and reading is the child’s first subject. • Break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy by supporting the development of literacy programs that build families of readers."

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