Barbara Bush, the matriarch of a Republican political dynasty and a first lady who elevated the cause of literacy, died Tuesday, according to a statement from her husband’s office. She was 92.
Caputo, who lives in East Aurora with his family, remembers this one day, at the end of the campaign, when it was clear they were not going to win. There was a train ride that captured more than they’d thought. It was a part of a Whistle Stop Tour – when campaigns make a series of brief stops and speeches at a number of small towns over a short period of time – this one going from Detroit to Cincinnati. George and Barbara Bush went out on the back of the caboose, a crew set up a microphone, and a camera would capture the moments; the crowd, the waves, the couple, “There were people lined up on the side and they were waving and the First Lady’s job was to just wave,” Caputo recalls, “The operator rigs a boom mic up because there was no room out there to hold it, and we’re traveling probably 25 miles and he’s catching their discussion as they were waving to people. We used a little of the footage but it was the end of the campaign so I didn’t really review the footage, all 25 miles of it. Well, after the campaign was over, I was going through my stuff and I sat down, it was President Clinton’s Inauguration Day and I just listened and it was the most personal conversation. It was incredible. He said, “You know Bar, I’m really gonna miss this.” And she said, “George, don’t worry, we are going to get the kids and go to Kennebunkport and we are going to be a family again.” It was the most heartwarming conversation I think I’ve ever heard.”
It was, says Caputo, typical of the couple who seemed like newlyweds. She was comforting him in a sweet and kind way and he was accepting it as if it was something she did all the time, “They were devoted, visibly devoted to each other. I saw that every time I saw them together.”
Mrs. Bush was delightful, but stern. If something had to be said, she’d say it. Caputo said she was no shrinking violet, “She could have a harsh word for you, she could. If something had to be said, she said it. She was not shy. She did it.”
Caputo also told me about a time, two years ago, when through a charity he’s associated with – The Impossible Dream– he was able to help the former President to do something he loves very much, “The President and Mrs. Bush actually got out on the Impossible Dream and the President piloted her. I wasn’t aboard but they knew it was me.”
Caputo says Mrs. Bush was a delightful person to work for and thinks she’ll go down as one of the most intelligent first ladies, “She saw the value in what she was doing, she was aware of everything around her, every molecule in the room.”
“I have some conservative friends who have negative things to say about the Bush family, but I don’t. The President and First Lady always treated me with respect; always kind and neighborly. I didn’t have a wife and kids at the time, but she would often ask me about my Harley.”
“I think there is going to be a fundamental sadness,” Caputo said, “It will be the loss of a remarkable first lady like when we lost Jackie O. Barbara Bush has worked for decades now, since 1992 really, to be friends across party lines, endearing herself to a broader range of hearts in America. Barbara is well respected by democrats and republicans.”
Caputo says he’s emailed the Bush family to offer well wishes and they gracefully replied.
For Mrs. Bush, it has been a long road, years of respiratory problems, congestive heart failure and pulmonary disease. And on April 17th, this message from her son, George W. Bush,
“My dear mother has passed on at age 92. Laura, Barbara, Jenna, and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was. Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions,” former president George W. Bush wrote in a statement Tuesday night. “To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I’m a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother. Our family will miss her dearly, and we thank you all for your prayers and good wishes.”