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Former First Lady Barbra Bush Dies, Aged 92

Barbara Bush didn't hesitate to tell people that her trademark pearl necklaces were fake. Americans liked that everything else about the snowy-haired first lady was real.

The wife of the nation's 41st president and mother of the 43rd brought a plain-spoken, grandmotherly style to buttoned-down Washington, displaying an utter lack of vanity about her white hair and wrinkles.

"What you see with me is what you get. I'm not running for president - George Bush is," she said at the 1988 Republican National Convention, where her husband, then vice president, was nominated to succeed Ronald Reagan.

Mrs Bush died in Houston on Tuesday, aged 92.

The Bushes, who were married on January 6, 1945, had the longest marriage of any presidential couple in American history.

And Mrs Bush was one of only two first ladies who had a child who was elected president.

The other was Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams and mother of John Quincy Adams.

"I had the best job in America," she wrote in a 1994 memoir describing her time in the White House.

"Every single day was interesting, rewarding, and sometimes just plain fun."

The publisher's daughter and oilman's wife could be caustic in private, but her public image was that of self-sacrificing, supportive spouse who referred to her husband as her "hero."

In the White House, "you need a friend, someone who loves you, who's going to say, 'You are great,"' Mrs Bush said in a 1992 television interview.

Her uncoiffed, matronly appearance often provoked jokes that she looked more like the boyish president's mother than his wife.

Eight years after leaving the nation's capital, Mrs Bush stood with her husband as their son George W was sworn in as president.

They returned four years later when he won a second term.

Unlike Mrs Bush, Abigail Adams did not live to see her son's inauguration.

She died in 1818, six years before John Quincy Adams was elected.

In her 1994 autobiography, Barbara Bush: A Memoir, she said she did her best to keep her opinions from the public while her husband was in office.

But she revealed that she disagreed with him on two issues: She supported legal abortion and opposed the sale of assault weapons.

She also disclosed a bout with depression in the mid-1970s, saying she sometimes feared she would deliberately crash her car.

She blamed hormonal changes and stress. She said she snapped out of it in a few months.

Mrs Bush raised five children: George W, Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Dorothy.

A sixth child, three-year-old daughter Robin, died of leukemia in 1953.

In a speech in 1985, she recalled the stress of raising a family while married to a man whose ambitions carried him from the Texas oil fields to Congress and then into influential political positions that included ambassador to the United Nations, GOP chairman and CIA director.

Along the way, she said, there were also "bumpy moments - not many, but a few - of feeling that I'd never, ever be able to have fun again and coping with the feeling that George Bush, in his excitement of starting a small company and travelling around the world, was having a lot of fun."

In 2003, she wrote a follow-up memoir, Reflections: Life After the White House.

"I made no apologies for the fact that I still live a life of ease," she wrote.

"There is a difference between ease and leisure. I live the former and not the latter."

Along with her memoirs, she wrote "C Fred's Story" and "Millie's Book," based on the lives of her dogs.

Proceeds from the books benefited adult and family literacy programs.

The 43rd president was not the only Bush son to seek office in the 1990s.

In 1994, when George W was elected governor of Texas, son Jeb narrowly lost to incumbent Lawton Chiles in Florida.

Four years later, Jeb was victorious in his second try in Florida.

Sons Marvin and Neil both became businessmen. Neil achieved some notoriety in the 1980s as a director of a savings and loan that crashed.

Daughter Dorothy, or Doro, has preferred to stay out of the spotlight. She married lobbyist Robert Koch, a Democrat, in 1992.

In a collection of letters published in 1999, George HW Bush included a note he gave to his wife in early 1994.

"I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara's husband."

Mrs Bush was born Barbara Pierce in Rye, New York. Her father was the publisher of McCall's and Redbook magazines. After attending Smith College for two years, she married young naval aviator George Herbert Walker Bush. She was 19.

After World War II, the Bushes moved to the Texas oil patch to seek their fortune and raise a family. It was there that Bush began his political career, representing Houston for two terms in Congress.

In all, the Bushes made more than two dozen moves that circled half the globe before landing at the White House in 1989.

During the next four years, opinion polls often gave her approval ratings that exceeded her husband's.

In 1990, Barbara Bush gave the commencement address at all-women Wellesley College, though some had protested her selection because she was prominent only through the achievements of her husband.

Her speech that day was rated by a survey of scholars in 1999 as one of the top 100 speeches of the century.

"Cherish your human connections," Mrs Bush told graduates.

"At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent."

AAP

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