The Truth About Barbara And George H. W. Bush's Epic Love Story

On Tuesday, April 17. 2018, at the age of 92, former First Lady Barbara Bush passed away. She is survived by her husband, President George H. W. Bush, along with their five children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren, a statement from the Office of George H. W. Bush confirmed.

Although the husband and wife team may be best known for their tenure in the White House, George and Barbara Bush's personal lives are equally fascinating. Although you may or may not agree with the couple's stance on politics, surely everyone can appreciate their beautiful love story. And, as the dynamic duo was married for an incredible 73 years — the longest relationship in United States presidential history — they were certainly doing something (or everything?) right.

Here is your inside look at former President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush's long and loving life together.

A storybook meeting

These days, online dating is the most popular way to meet your future spouse, according to a study conducted by The Knot. Of course, since the former president and first lady met in the early 1940s, the internet was still nearly five decades away from even being invented. So, just how did couples meet back in the good ole days? At dances — or at least that was the case for George and Barbara.

While at a Christmas dance, a 17-year-old man who would one day become president spotted a young 16-year-old woman from across the room. She was wearing a festive green and red dress, which caught the young man's attention. A friend introduced the two shortly before the next song began.

"Since I didn't waltz, we sat the dance out," the president explained in his autobiography (via NBC 5), "And several more after that, talking and getting to know each other." He added, "It was a storybook meeting." Aww.

Nothing says I love you quite like a torpedo bomber

In the summer of 1942, George arrived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to begin preflight training and, by 1943, he became one of the youngest — if not the youngest — flying officer in the navy. The book, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, describes the eventual president's early naval career. His very first assignment after completing his training was flying torpedo bombers off aircraft carriers during none other than the Pacific War. 

Just six months into active military duty, George and Barbara were engaged. In a letter penned to his sweetheart, he wrote, "You have made my life full of everything I could even dream of — my complete happiness should be a token of my love for you." Now that's a love letter.

If that wasn't a grand enough expression of his commitment, the one-day president went on to name his torpedo bomber after his fiancee, christening it Barbara III. Sadly, the aircraft was shot down in the summer of 1944 and, as Chicago Tribune reported, only Bush survived. Thankfully, this couple's love story would live on long after the war.

Marrying the first person they ever kissed

After learning of her fiancé's terrifying close call with his torpedo bomber being shot down, Barbara made the decision to drop out of college during her sophomore year and get married. They couple said their "I dos" at the First Presbyterian Church in Rye, New York on January 6, 1945. "I married the first man I ever kissed," the former first lady told Time. "When I tell this to my children," she joked, "they just about throw up."

In a letter the former president shared as part of his book, All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings, he described that very kiss — to his mother! It was a different time back then, okay? "I kissed Barbara and I am glad of it," he wrote. Later he also told his mom, "I have never kissed another girl — this making myself... an oddity."

Stricken with the loss of a child

Just a year and a half after their wedding, the smitten couple began welcomed a baby, George W. Bush. By the late 1950s, they had also welcomed home two girls, Pauline ("Robin"), and Dorothy ("Doro"), as well as three more boys, John ("Jeb"), Neil, and Marvin.

Shortly after Jeb's birth, Robin became ill. In her memoir, Barbara explained that Robin was often fatigued and, after running tests, a doctor confirmed that Robin had leukemia — a form of blood cancer that the distraught parents hadn't even heard of until the diagnosis. The medical professionals advised the Bush family to make their daughter as comfortable as possible as there wasn't much else that could be done. Despite the terminal diagnosis, they attempted to find a cure. Sadly, Robin passed away at just three years old.

"Robin was wonderful. She never asked why this was happening to her," the mother of six recounted, "She lived each day as it came, sweet and loving, unquestioning and unselfish." After Robin's death, the first lady started a foundation for leukemia research and dedicated much of her time to her remaining children.

The CIA, depression, and the White House

Barbara would go on to spend the next 20 years raising her children alongside her husband, and volunteering for various organizations. The family moved to Midland, Texas where the former president then began his career in the oil industry. At the same time, they became involved in politics. In 1966, George was elected to Congress and the family shipped off to Washington, D.C. 

Come 1975, George was offered a job as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Although his wife was concerned about the position ruining his odds at a future political career, George accepted. Before long, with an empty nest and a perpetually busy husband, Barbara became depressed. "Night after night, George held me weeping in his arms while I tried to explain my feelings," she wrote in her memoir. 

Although she did not seek treatment, her mental health gradually improved, and by 1980, her husband became vice president under Ronald Reagan. Subsequently, in 1989, he became the forty-first president of the United States. The couple were well suited for the White House life. "I don't fool around with his office," she once said, "and he doesn't fool around with my household." Fair's fair.

They lived in China and biked everywhere

In the summer of 1974, just a year before the former president began his position with the CIA, he was given the choice of a few different diplomatic posts. He chose to become Chief of the United States Liaison Office in China. For the very first time, Barbara ventured outside of the U.S. and joined her husband in Beijing. According to her biography, she fully immersed herself in not only the language but the culture as well. 

It was likely a bittersweet experience to come back to the states as they had lots of great memories there. "I used to come to church on my bicycle," Barbara Bush: Matriarch of a Dynasty quotes the former president as saying. Barbara, too, was accustomed to bicycling around town. She told reporters that life in China was similar to life anywhere, aside from having to pedal to the places she wanted to visit. She added, "[I'd] give someone two cents to park [the bike], and spend an afternoon with a house guest." It must've been an exciting and unusual change for the couple.

George H. W. Bush's health was the first to go

By the time the power couple's oldest son, the other former President Bush, visited the White House for the unveiling of his official portrait in 2012, George Sr. and Barbara had already lived quite a fulfilling life, including watching their oldest son become president of the United States. They weren't exactly spring chickens anymore, though. By that time, the elder former president was already suffering from Vascular Parkinsonism, a disease similar to Parkinson's.

That same year he spoke with Parade Magazine (via The Associated Press) about his condition, saying, "It's not painful. You tell your legs to move, and they don't move. It's strange, but if you have to have some bad-sounding disease, this is a good one to get." You can't help but admire his positive attitude.

In subsequent years, the former president also came down with pneumonia and broke one of his vertebrae, becoming mostly reliant on a wheelchair or motorized scooter or a wheelchair. That wasn't enough to get in the couple's way, however. In 2017, the former president was given the honor of starting the super bowl with the iconic coin toss — his faithful wife at his side.

Together until the very end

While the former president's health was declining, so too was the first lady's — unbeknownst to many. George's office released a statement just two days before the matriarch's death, writing, in part, "Following a recent series of hospitalizations, and after consulting her family and doctors, Mrs. Bush, now age 92, has decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care."

According to CNN, she had been battling with both Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure. After her passing, Jean Becker, chief of staff at the Office of George H. W. Bush commented on how the former president was holding up, saying he is certainly "broken hearted to lose his beloved Barbara." Becker added, "He held her hand all day today and was at her side when [she] left this good earth."

Meeting again

Although this is certainly a very difficult — or the most difficult — situation George Sr. has faced yet, he is likely taking solace in his faith. In a candid interview from 2012, the former president sat down with granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager and answered some very thought-provoking questions. When he explained that he didn't fear death, she asked if he wondered what it's like. "Definitely," he replied. "I can't quite sort out in my mind how we're going to find [loved ones in heaven]." Hager goes onto to ask who he wants to see first. "Well, it depends if Barbara predeceases me. [I'd] probably go with her."

Of course, these words carry extra weight now that his beloved did, indeed, pass away first. The former president said he would also like to see his parents and Robin, the couple's daughter who died much too soon. Even through this incredibly tragic time, he is likely comforted at the thought of his wife being reunited with their little girl.

Is the tale of George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush the best love story of all time? Maybe, just maybe.