More than 1,000 mourners gathered in Texas Saturday to attend the funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush, the matriarch of a Republican political dynasty, who was dubbed “the first lady of the greatest generation” during the service.
The funeral was held in Houston at the Bushes’ family church, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, and, per the former first lady’s request, was a very simple service. Among the approximately 1,500 attendees were former Presidents George H.W. Bush, George Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. First lady Melania Trump and former first ladies Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton were also in attendance.
Son Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, grew emotional as he delivered remarks about his mother’s legacy.
“We learned to strive to be genuine and authentic by the best role model in the world,” Bush said of his mother. During his last visit with her, Bush said that he asked his mother what her feelings were about death. “Jeb, I believe in Jesus and he as my savior,” she told him. “I don’t want to leave your dad but I know I’ll be in a beautiful place.”
Bush, only the second woman in US history to have had a husband and son elected President, died Tuesday at the age of 92 at her home in Houston. She had been battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure, and decided against seeking additional medical help earlier this week after a series of hospitalizations.
As the family entered the church, the second President Bush guided his father’s wheelchair to the family’s pew. The scene would be repeated as eight of Bush’s grandchildren carried her casket outside following the service.
‘The secret sauce’
The service also included eulogies from Bush’s close friend Susan Baker and historian Jon Meacham.
“Barbara Bush was the first lady of the greatest generation,” Meacham said.
The historian said she was a “point of light” because of the kindness and compassion she showed when she embraced HIV-positive and AIDS patients in the late 1980s and her dedication to the issue family literacy.
Baker said that as the “tough, but loving, enforcer,” Bush was “the secret sauce of this extraordinary family.”
“Thank you, dear Lord, for bringing Barbara Pierce Bush, this vibrantly beautifully human being, into the world,” Baker said. “And especially for bringing her friendship into our lives.”
Many of the speakers made sure to include funny stories about Bush, who was known for being quick-witted and having a good sense of humor. Meacham said that during her final days in the hospital, Bush jokingly asked a nurse if she wanted to know “why George W. turned out the way he had.” Meacham said she replied, “I smoked and drank while I was pregnant.”
In another emotional moment, six of Bush’s grandchildren – all women – each read a section from a passage from the Book of Proverbs that began with the lines, “Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’”
The Bushes were married for 73 years.
A sartorial tribute
In another nod to the former first lady, many women wore pearl necklaces to the funeral, a clear acknowledgment of her signature accessory. Bush Sr., who is known for wearing bold, patterned socks, wore a pair of socks picturing a stack of colorful books to honor his wife and her championing the issue of family literacy.
First lady Melania Trump personally invited George Hannie, former White House maÎtre d’ in the Bush White House, and Buddy Carter, the current White House usher, who also worked for the Bushes, to join her at the service, according to her press secretary, Stephanie Grisham. Both of the men knew and adored the former first lady.
“Mrs. Trump knows how close they were and are to the Bush family,” Grisham said. “She wanted them to be able to attend.”
In a statement released on Saturday, Trump said: “Today the world paid tribute to a woman of indisputable character and grace.”
President Trump follows recent practice
President Donald Trump opted out of attending the funeral to “avoid disruptions due to added security” and out of respect for the Bush family. On Saturday, Trump tweeted that he was headed to Mar-a-Lago to watch a feed of the funeral, and also tweeted a photo of Bush’s portrait that hangs in the White House.
Trump’s absence from Bush’s funeral is not uncommon for a sitting president. Obama did not attend Nancy Reagan’s funeral in 2016 or Betty Ford’s funeral in 2011. President George W. Bush did not attend Lady Bird Johnson’s funeral in 2007. President Bill Clinton attended a graveside service for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who died in 1994.
Following the service, the casket was carried out of the sanctuary by Bush’s eight grandsons. Bush Sr. followed closely behind in a wheelchair that was pushed by his son.
The family then headed to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, where Bush would be buried on the library’s grounds next to the couple’s daughter Robin, who died from leukemia as a child. As the procession arrived, the streets leading to the library were flanked by members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets.
Bush was laid to rest in a private ceremony.
CNN’s John Crawley, Jamie Gangel, Betsy Klein, Kate Bennett, and Joe Ruiz contributed to this report.