Welcome to the first installment in our series of badass lady politicians. Today we are going to talk about one of the most popular first ladies of all time and my new personal hero, Laura Bush.
There are so many things I want to tell you about Laura Bush, that I think I could start a whole other blog about how much I love this woman. I want to tell you about how she was the only first lady to ever deliver a Saturday morning radio address in which she expressed her deep concern for the plight of Afghan women. I want to tell you that she has had the same group of friends since college and threw sleepovers for them in the White House. I want to tell you that she did more for the arts than any first lady other than, possibly, Jackie Kennedy. I want to tell you that if you think she is just a meek, unassuming, Stepford wife then you are mistaken.
The picture of Laura that emerges through even just a little research is exactly the opposite. She possesses a quiet confidence and calm temperament that has been hard-won. She grew up an only child who watched her mother suffer through 3 miscarriages. In high school she was responsible for a car accident that killed a fellow classmate. She stood next to her husband as he and their family were repeatedly dragged through the mud by the media, not to mention through his struggles with alcohol early in their marriage. Through all of this she has remained even-keeled and kind hearted. This is pure speculation, of course, but I really believe that her grace under pressure is more than the result of good media training. It is a character hard-won by suffering grief and loss and continuing to move forward in the face of it.
One of my favorite things about Laura Bush is, of course, her love for reading. She claims to read a book a week and carries around a copy of The Brothers Karamazov held together by a rubber band. She told NPR she loves the Grand Inquisitor scene because “it’s about life, it’s about death, it’s about Christ. I find it very reassuring.” Her favorite type of literature though, is children’s literature. She truly believes that reading is a gift and as a fellow only child, I can related to this love for books that filled the void of siblings. I believe that Laura would agree with Kathleen Kelly when she says that “when you read a book as a child it affects you in a way that no other reading in your whole life can.” Laura grew up surrounded by Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls and she has spent much of her life trying to pass that same gift on to every child.
I’ve watched enough Friday Night Lights episodes to know that it’s not easy to give up something you love in order for your partner to pursue something they love. Before George went into politics, Laura was a deeply committed librarian in an inner-city school. It must have been a hard transition from school librarian to public figure. In fact she originally made George promise that she would never have to give a speech. Fast forward to 2004 where she spoke at the Republican National Convention in front of millions of people or when she stole the show with her Chippendales line at the 2005 White House Correspondents Dinner. She handled the transition with her trademark poise and eventually became a huge asset to her husband’s campaign. (full disclosure: watching Bush introduce Laura at the RNC makes me weep. I can’t explain this.)
Just in case you are still lingering under the impression that she is nothing more than a sweet Southern librarian, consider this story: When Laura was first introduced to Dorothy Bush, the notoriously intimidating grandmother of her future husband, she was asked what she did for a living. Laura replied, “I read, I smoke, and I admire.” I mean, how badass is that?! I dare anyone of you to look your boyfriend’s grandma in the face and say that! The woman has spunk but she knows when it’s appropriate to use it.
Speaking about the first time he met his wife, George Bush said he was struck by how interested she was. Interest in getting to know people and learning their story, interested in reading, interested in traveling and new experiences. This is one of the great lessons we can take from Laura Bush. In a world where so many of us are striving to be interesting, focusing on trying to impress people with how much we know or how cool we are, Laura decided to be interested. And that, I believe, has made all the difference. There are so many more things I want to tell you about her, but I hope i’ve at least sparked enough curiosity in you to check out her wonderful autobiography “Spoken from the Heart.” And, Laura, if you’re reading this and in the market for a young woman to mentor please call this girl up!