I’m very lucky that I got to meet Barbara Bush. She was just as everyone is describing. She was no-nonsense and warm. She was gracious, but you knew instantly that she didn’t suffer fools for a minute. She was full of fun and full of dignity. She was funny and irreverent, serious and dedicated. And she was real.
I wasn’t going to tell my story because it’s private, but the first time I met her was such a perfect example of who Barbara was that I can’t resist.
It was in Kennebunkport twenty years ago. We were back there with friends who were close with the Bushes. Four days before we left I was told that I’d being playing golf there.
“But I don’t play golf,” I said.
“You better learn fast,” my husband said.
Let me say here that I’m not the world’s greatest athlete. Nor is golf an easy sport. After twenty years I’m mediocre on a good day. But my first 18 holes was played with Barbara Bush, God help her.
We met at their club, Cape Arundel, me still tearing the tags off my golf attire. It turned out that the Bushes were hosting a cocktail party for 70 that evening at the Walker estate — Barbara was supposed to get a chance to relax and play golf that morning. Instead she got me.
Graciously, she invited me to ride in her cart. I’m not sure who she thought she was getting — I did come with a Hollywood couple, after all, who played golf all the time . She couldn’t have known I’d be a school teacher from Seattle…who’d never played golf. She soon realized the last part as I sprayed balls right and left. One hole of Cape Arundel borders a street and my ball almost took out the windshield of a Secret Service car driving along side. Guns drawn, two men in black leaned out of the car to make sure the former First Lady was not under attack.
I was in awe just being there–pretty tongue tied as well as embarrassed at my inability. I’d hit the ball and then scurry toward it, trying not to hold up play. Barbara must have been going crazy, but she didn’t say anything. On one hole, I actually was running to my ball. Barbara drew up in her cart and said, “Hop in. You don’t have to run. We all started somewhere.”
I rolled my eyes. “But why is my somewhere with you when you have 70 people coming to your house tonight.”
She laughed and patted the seat next to her. And I knew, just like that, I was okay in her book.
On the ninth green, I said, “Mrs. Bush, you can go ahead and putt out.”
A voice from the next hole called out, “Who’s calling my mother, ‘Mrs. Bush’. No one calls my mother, ‘Mrs. Bush.’ It’s Barbara.”
I blushed as I met Jeb who was playing with his dad and my husband.
Barbara, looking pleased, laughed at her son’s teasing. And I relaxed enough to laugh too.
Later that night at their house, she was the perfect hostess. Dressed in her classic style with the signature pearls around her neck, she made sure the evening, an event for MD Anderson, ran like clockwork. But it was with a calm and non pretentiousness that put everyone at ease.
We got to be with Barbara several other times. Each occasion was precious.