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Laura Bush: From Shy Texas Girl to First Lady

Aired April 7, 2001 - 11:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: She lives at the nation's most prestigious address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but prefers the plains of her native Texas.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I think you felt a lot of security for all of us that grew up there.


ANNOUNCER: A soft-spoken advocate reluctantly thrust into the media spotlight.


LAURA BUSH: If I can use this forum to talk about issues that are so important to me...


ANNOUNCER: She married a man so unlike her.


JANE SIMMS PODESTA, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: It was like Audrey Hepburn stepping into the animal house.


ANNOUNCER: Becoming an emotional cornerstone to a political dynasty.


MYRA GUTIN, HISTORIAN: She's unflappable in a family that's not known for its calm.


ANNOUNCER: From shy Texas girl to first lady of the United States, Laura Welch Bush, her story now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Daryn Kagan. You've seen her smiling beside and behind her husband, but exactly who is Laura Bush? The first lady admits she prefers to stay out of the spotlight and out of the headlines. But when it comes to politics, there's no greater fish bowl than the White House.

Since the new administration is nearing the end of its first 100 days in office, we thought it would be a good time to take an in-depth look at Laura Bush. Among other things, we'll discover how a blind date with a fellow Texas forever changed the life of this quiet teacher who loved both her books and her privacy.


KAGAN: (voice-over): It's 8:45 on inauguration night, some eight hours since the nation swore in a new leader, and President Bush, along with the first lady, wife Laura Bush, are making the celebratory rounds.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now is not the time for speeches, it's a time for dancing.

KAGAN: Eight official balls in all. But by 11:00, the Bushes, who make punctuality a priority, call it a night and head to their new home, one hour ahead of schedule.

For 54-year-old Laura Welch Bush, wife, mother, admitted introvert, the night marked the pinnacle of her reluctant life in politics, a dance 23 years in the making.

LAURA BUSH: What I liked about George when I first met him was, I liked his personality. I liked that he gave me a lot of energy, because of the energy of his personality.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I saw a elegant, beautiful woman who turned out not only to be elegant and beautiful but very smart, and willing to put up with my rough edges. And I must confess she has smoothed them off over time.

LAURA BUSH: Not all of them.

KAGAN: Far from the nation's capital, Laura Welch Bush was raised as an only child. The Welches lived in the small west Texas oil town of Midland. Her father built houses while her mother kept the company books and the home, 2500 Humble Street.

LAURA BUSH: I remember the big sky. Midland has a huge sky. But mostly I think I remember feeling of being really sheltered. You were free in Midland to ride your bike anywhere and go all around town by yourself, and I think that was good. I think that was also a lot of security for all of us that grew up there.

KAGAN: The only child also found security in a group of girlfriends, friends that are still close today.

PODESTA: They used to cruise Midland and smoke Kents in the back seat and go get Coke floats at the corner stand. She had a very '50s childhood with her friends.

REGAN GAMMON, FRIEND: She is my closest friend. We would listen to 45 records all the time. We loved to dance around in our socks. I mean, just like in -- you know, you see in the movies. As we got older, it was a lot like the movie "American Graffiti."

KAGAN: Music wasn't Laura's only escape. She was just as likely to have her nose in a good book.

LAURA BUSH: I loved all the "Little House on the Prairie" books. The main character in those books is Laura, so I really identified with Laura, who had brown hair.

KAGAN: If Laura Welch's childhood was idyllic, sheltered, and safe, her late teens were tempered by tragedy. On November 5, 1963, at the age of 17, Laura Welch drove through an intersection and hit an oncoming car driven by a close high school friend. He died. No charges were brought against Laura.

PODESTA: I think she was terribly saddened by the death of her friend when she was in high school, and I do think that it had an impact on her. But that's one area that she doesn't really like to talk about.

KAGAN: Laura soon left Midland for Dallas, earning a bachelor's degree in education. She became a public school teacher and librarian. Former colleagues of hers at Dawson Elementary in Austin remember her concern for underprivileged students.

MARIE VELLIQUETTE, TEACHER: Laura made sure that we had books in the library that these children could relate to.

JONI HENDERSON, TEACHER: I recall a student who was transitioning from Spanish to English, and Laura would take the time, extra time, to seek out materials that might be important to him or be able to help him with that transition.


KAGAN: When the story of Laura Welch Bush continues, a personal transition, one that would introduce her to marriage and motherhood. It would push her limits and endanger her life.


GEORGE W. BUSH: I was nervous about these little babies' health, and the doctor called me one day and said, "You're having babies tomorrow." I said, "It's a little early, isn't it?" And she said, "Your wife's sick."


KAGAN: But first, we bring you this week's newsmaker happenings in "Passages."

ANNOUNCER: TV proves a bitter pill for radio's Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Paramount pulls the plug on the talkmeister's syndicated television show after just one season. Flatlined with viewers and advertisers, alike, Dr. Laura's show is now officially off life support. As for Dr. Laura's future, don't look for her to make a comeback to TV land any time soon. She's vowing to stick with radio from now on.

Whatcha gonna do when life imitates art? Producer of the reality series "Cops" gets cuffed. Sixty-four-year-old Murray Jordan is charged with a DUI. He was arrested while driving to meet with the Atlanta police about an upcoming episode.

Here he comes, to sell you things? Yes, Mighty Mouse swoops out of a 30-year retirement to become a corporate flak, promoting, what else, cheese. In an upcoming advertising campaign, Mighty Mouse reportedly gives in to the crave of cheese before coming to save the day.

You'll find more "Passages" and entertainment news in this week's "People" magazine. We'll be right back.



KAGAN (voice-over): The year, 1977. Jimmy Carter was president. The cold war was still hot. Unemployment had reached double digits. And Laura Welch was 30 years old, smart, reserved, and single. But that was about to change.

Laura Welch and George Walker Bush had actually lived just miles apart as children. They even attended the same junior high school for a year. Twenty years later, a friend's barbecue in Midland brought them back together.

GAMMON: She came back and she said, "Well, I had dinner with George Bush." She said, "He's really cute guy, you know, and I think he liked me."

LAURA BUSH: He was funny, and we laughed a lot, and both of us love to laugh.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I was smitten, I was. And it didn't take me long to propose, and fortunately she said yes.

PODESTA: It was like Audrey Hepburn stepping into the animal house. She is an introvert, he's an extrovert. He's impatient, she's patient.

KAGAN: These opposites were more than just drawn to each other. Within six weeks, they were engaged. Within three months, married.

LAURA BUSH: It was a small wedding, just about 75 people. It was in the church I'd been baptized in as a baby, so it was a -- you know, a really wonderful way to start a new marriage.

KAGAN: She knew by marrying the man that she calls "Bushie," there might be sacrifice. Laura Welch was raised a Democrat, but now she was forever tied to a Republican Party dynasty. Her new husband, the grandson of a senator, the son of an ambassador who had become vice president and then president of the United States.

BILL MINUTAGLIO, HISTORIAN: George W. grew up in an extraordinary and lengthy shadow, and I maintain, really, in a sense, is almost a Shakespearian kind of figure in the sense that he's the prince, his father being the king. And George W. had to live up to the family legacy, the family dynasty.

KAGAN: There would be no honeymoon for these newlyweds.

GEORGE W. BUSH: They're in a city or town, and this whole district that I hadn't been in during the past 12 months.

KAGAN: Just one day after they said their I-do's, George W. followed in his family's footsteps and entered politics, running for a congressional seat in Texas.


GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm George Bush.

ANNOUNCER: George Bush, businessman, independent oil and gas producer, and now a candidate for congratulating.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think that's the thing we need, less government.


KAGAN: Bush lost, and after that defeat, George and Laura both agreed to return to private life and to start a family. So George reentered the gas and oil business. But for Laura, pregnancy did not come quickly.

GEORGE W. BUSH: We did want children, and were in the process of adopting. Laura actually, as I understand it, checked "twins" on the -- we would love to have twins. And in between going to the Gladney Home and being accepted as parents and this -- the final home visit by the caseworker, Laura became pregnant with twins.

KAGAN: Five weeks from Laura's expected due date, there was a problem, toxemia, a life-threatening condition for the twins and Laura. Doctors had to perform an emergency C-section.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I was in the operating room, and I can remember showing them to Laura, and I'm an emotional person, I got weepy. And then I realized our life had changed forever in a positive way.

LAURA BUSH: We were thrilled. We had waited a long time to have children, and we wanted children. And so when we got to have two at once, we were especially thrilled.

KAGAN: The Bushes had fraternal twin girls, Barbara and Jenna, named for their grandmothers. They would be the couple's only children.

PODESTA: They wanted more children, but I think it was such a dangerous ordeal that they went through that they just are totally devoted to these twins. The sun rises and sets on them. They are the most devoted parents.

KAGAN: Laura Bush became a fiercely protective mother, and she was just as watchful over her husband. She was concerned about his drinking. Alcohol had become a problem for George Bush, and Laura was determined to save him from himself. In 1986, she gave George W. an ultimatum.

MINUTAGLIO: It's very, very clear from talking to their friends that it put an enormous strain on their relationship, and that she essentially laid down the law, and, in essence, said, you know: It's drinking or me.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I think it's well documented that I drank too much and quit drinking, and -- because alcohol was beginning to crowd out my energy level and crowd out my affections.

KAGAN: With his drinking days behind him, George W. helped his father's successful run for the presidency in 1988.




KAGAN: The following year, he borrowed $600,000 and bought a share of a baseball team. His title, managing general partner.

MINUTAGLIO: It turned out to be George W.'s best and most astute political move as well as probably his best and most astute financial move. Raised his profile in a way that was unimaginable. He was on the evening news almost every evening. Turned out to be a great, great tool for him.

KAGAN: All along, Laura Bush demanded that her personal life and the lives of their girls remain in obscurity.


GEORGE W. BUSH: Let's make it official.


KAGAN: That was until 1994.


GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm a candidate for governor of Texas.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KAGAN: When her husband decided he wanted to become the next governor of Texas. And he did, defeating incumbent Ann Richards.


GEORGE W. BUSH: A woman who will be a great first lady of Texas, Laura Bush.


LAURA BUSH: I would have never guessed. People would say, Do you think George will get back into politics? And I used to joke and say, Yes, maybe when we're 50. And as it turned out, we were pretty close to 50 when he ran for governor.

KAGAN: With her husband now the leader of Texas, the most private Laura Bush was now thrust into the public spotlight, whether she liked it or not.


GEORGE W. BUSH: My yellow rose of Texas.


GUTIN: If there is pressure, certainly she's adjusted well. Barbara Bush has said that Laura is unflappable, and she's unflappable in a family that's not known for its calm.

KAGAN: When we return, Laura Bush would have to draw on all of her trademark serenity. In the fall of 2000, 36 days of confusion, controversy, and chaos clouded a presidential election she had originally wanted to avoid.

PODESTA: The twins really didn't want him to run for president. And initially, Laura Bush didn't either, because they really liked their family time away from the spotlight.


KAGAN: Before we send you to a commercial break, the spotlight on a former first lady in this week's "Where Are They Now?"

ANNOUNCER: In 1963, it was Lady Bird Johnson who brought Texas charm to the White House as the nation's 36th first lady. So where is Lady Bird Johnson today? Claudia Taylor Johnson lives in Austin, where she supports the Lady Bird Johnson Wild Flower Center. It's a conservation organization she founded in 1982. The 88-year-old former first lady remains active. She swims daily, spends time with her seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues after this.



GEORGE W. BUSH: I couldn't wait to tell people, this exploratory business is over. I'm running. I'm in. And I intend to win.


KAGAN: Once again, Laura Welch Bush answered the call, the call of the campaign trail.

LAURA BUSH: Thank you.

KAGAN: As her husband set out to capture the office lost by his father seven years earlier.

PODESTA: I think a huge part of why they're in the White House is to finish what they saw as unfinished business from former president Bush, the father.

KAGAN: A tough campaign, a nearly unbelievable ending.


WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN: The TV networks called this race for Governor Bush. It now appears, it now appears that their call was premature.


LAURA BUSH: He gave it 100 percent, and at that point, we just had to see what happened, and we had to -- we were dealt that particular hand, and we -- it just had to be played out.

KAGAN: At the end of 36 days of counts, recounts, and court rulings, the hand turned out to be a winning one for George Walker Bush. And in the middle, Laura Bush, always the calm in the center of the storm. Just moments before her husband was to address the nation as the new president-elect, a candid flash of Bush and his wife in the corridor of the state capitol.

PODESTA: She is the steel in his back, she is a civilizing influence on him. I think that she has built him in many ways into the person he is today.

KAGAN: As George and Laura Bush near their first 100 days in the White House, the new first lady is a study in restraint, signaling, if nothing else, that she's no Hillary Clinton.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER FIRST LADY: Health care is an issue that goes beyond politics.


KAGAN: That Laura Bush is in no hurry to meddle in matters of policy or to take center stage.

LAURA BUSH: I'm not ready for that. I don't think anyone really would be. And I hope I still can have a private life. I certainly hope my children can have a private life.

KAGAN: Today, her twin daughters are college freshmen. The Bushes took time off from the campaign last May to see both of them graduate from high school. Barbara is now at Yale University, and Jenna at the University of Texas.

GUTIN: I think maybe you have to be the kind of person who draws a very definite line and says, This is going to be the public part of my life, and this will be the private part of my life.

KAGAN: In her private life, Laura Bush is a woman with a sense of humor.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Read 'em and weep, Al, that's a double word score.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: "Dignitude" is not a word.


KAGAN: The first lady says she watches the popular parodies of her husband on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," perhaps with one eye shut.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Maybe I'll start a war. Wars are -- wars are like executions, super-sized.


PODESTA: She has to be laughing.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That Dick Cheney's going to be one tough boss.


PODESTA: But I do think they take the criticism to heart. And in fact, she's joked with friends that she'll be all right as long as John Goodman doesn't play her on "Saturday Night Live."

LAURA BUSH: Good morning. I like your sign.

KAGAN: But the private and public Laura Bush do intersect on one important issue, education.

LAURA BUSH: Look what happened to him when he stood on a swivel chair. A really good teacher is priceless, and teachers are paid with public funds, public funds are tight in a lot of places. But I think it's up to all of us to once again let people know how important teaching is.

GEORGE W. BUSH: As we know, a good education starts with a good teacher. I like teachers so much, I married one.

KAGAN: But the first lady and president disagree on at least one major issue. Laura Bush has gone on the record that she, unlike her husband, supports a woman's right to choose an abortion.

LAURA BUSH: Well, I'll give him my opinion, I will, sometimes. I think wives have to be just a little bit careful about giving their husbands all of their opinions.

KAGAN: She rarely goes public with any opinion. She keeps focused on simple, uncontroversial goals, like recruiting more teachers, improving early childhood reading skills, and giving parents the facts about learning.

LAURA BUSH: I have for these four years a forum, and if I can use this forum to talk about issues that are so important to me, that I think are very, very important to our country.

I think reading's very important, I think education...

KAGAN: A role of a lifetime, but leaving little time for simple pleasures, like curling up with her beloved books.


KAGAN: So we were wondering, what exactly is the first lady's favorite book? Well, she actually has several, including "Ship of Fools" by Katherine Anne Porter and "Music for Chameleons" by Truman Capote. Oh, and there is one other favorite, the Bible.

For other interesting tidbits about Laura Bush, you can log onto our Web site at You can go there to subscribe to our weekly e-mails as well.

Next week, the story of a dynasty. They look alike, sound alike, and both preach religion, but that's where the similarity stops. The Grahams, father Billy and his Harley-riding son, Franklyn, profiled next weekend.

But that's it for this week. Thanks for watching. For all of us here at PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, I'm Daryn Kagan.



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