Barbara Bush Honored at Funeral

  • People line up to pay tribute as they wait for the motorcade carrying former first lady Barbara Bush on George Bush Drive, Saturday, April 21, 2018, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Mark Humphrey

  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks during a funeral service for his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Houston. (Brett Coomer /Houston Chronicle via AP, Pool) ap/pool — Brett Coomer

  • Pallbearers carry the casket of former first lady Barbara Bush after a funeral service for former first lady Barbara Bush at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Houston. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP, Pool) Brett Coomer

  • The casket of former first lady Barbara Bush is moved after a funeral service at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip , Pool) David J. Phillip

The Washington Post
Published: 4/21/2018 11:37:56 PM
Modified: 4/21/2018 11:37:57 PM

Houston — More than a thousand guests attended a private funeral for former first lady Barbara Bush on Saturday, including four former presidents and three former first ladies, as well as the current first lady.

Mourners gathered at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston to celebrate the life of the matriarch of the Bush family, who was the wife of a president and the mother of another. She died on Tuesday at 92.

Several dignitaries and public figures were in attendance, including former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, and former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, who were seated next to first lady Melania Trump in the front row of the church.

Bush’s husband, former President George H.W. Bush, who was in a wheelchair, and her son, former President George W. Bush, sat at the front of the church, along with former first lady Laura Bush. Bush’s only living daughter, Dorothy Bush Koch, could be seen with her arm around her father.

Jeb Bush delivered the eulogy for Bush on behalf of the family.

“She was our teacher and role model on how to live a life of purpose and meaning,” he said in a tribute. Jeb Bush emphasized his mother’s humor, her authenticity, and strong will. “She called her style a benevolent dictatorship, but honestly it wasn’t always benevolent.” he said, to big laughs from the guests.

Not in attendance at the Saturday service was President Donald Trump, who wanted to “avoid disruptions” and out of respect for the Bush family, the White House has said.

Former President Jimmy Carter also was not in attendance; he is caring for his wife, Rosalynn Carter, who is recovering from surgery, he said in a statement.

Minutes before the start of the service, Trump said on Twitter, “Heading to the Southern White House to watch the Funeral Service of Barbara Bush. First Lady Melania has arrived in Houston to pay our respects. Will be a beautiful day!”

The first eulogy was delivered by Jon Meacham, who wrote a biography of Bush’s husband. “Barbara Bush was the first lady of the greatest generation,” he said, describing her as a “point of light.” Reflecting the celebratory spirit of the ceremony, Meacham drew roaring laughter from the guests, relaying self-deprecating anecdotes about Bush’s preference for another author, John Grisham, and her tendency to lovingly prod her children.

In another tribute, Susan Baker, the wife of former Secretary of State James Baker and Bush’s longtime friend and confidante, called her a “vibrantly beautiful human being.”

The selection of Jeb Bush as the final eulogist, and not George W. Bush, is notable in part because of the former Florida governor’s antagonistic relationship with Trump during the 2016 campaign and after. Bush herself was critical of Trump during the election, saying during one interview it was “incomprehensible” to her that anyone would vote for Trump because of his abusive comments.

While Saturday’s invitation-only service was for family and friends, a viewing was held on Friday for the public, where people paid their respects at the church until midnight. George H.W. Bush made a last-minute decision to greet mourners at the church.

On Saturday morning, he hosted a reception for the visiting dignitaries before the private service. Meanwhile the church began to fill with less-recognizable friends of the family, including former staffers and Secret Service members who protected them for more than three decades.

Many of the women in attendance eschewed black in favor of a vibrant royal blue, Bush’s signature color. The mood inside the church was celebratory rather than sad — full of hugs and kisses — akin to a reunion of old friends.

Bush’s eight grandsons carried the casket out of the church, as former President George W. Bush pushed his father’s wheelchair behind. Guests reached out to both, jumping up and shaking their hands as they moved toward the door. But no sign of tears.

The Bush family was to drive by motorcade about 90 miles to the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, where she will be buried. She will be laid to rest next to her daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia when she was 3 years old.

At the public viewing on Friday night, attendees received a remembrance card with a statement from Bush that read, “George Bush and I have been the two luckiest people in the world, and when all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends.”

The Washington Post’s Roxanne Roberts contributed to this report from Houston.

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