America's matriarch

Barbara Bush was the closest thing America had to a queen

Barbara Bush.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Ed Bailey)

It feels as though Barbara Bush was born to be America's grandma. This is something of a cliché, and yet it seems fitting. Her fake pearls were legendary. She adored her pet spaniel. We are unsurprised to learn that her hair began graying in the 1950's, when she was not yet 30 years old. Shrewd and plainspoken, she always looked older than her presidential husband, but she projected gravitas, not decrepitude. This week saw the passing of one of our nation's true grand dames.

Born in New York state to well-to-do WASPS, young Barbara Pierce (a descendant of Franklin, our 14th president) married a patrician Navy pilot at 19, and began the ascent to the heights of American aristocracy. If the Kennedy family represents America's "Camelot," the Bushes are the Darcys of Pemberly. They are restrained, dignified, gracious, and keenly conscious of the obligations of noblesse oblige. As a grandmotherly figure, Barbara somehow managed to be sharp-tongued while still exuding old-fashioned propriety. (Even when calling Geraldine Ferraro an unladylike name, she wasn't quite willing to say the word. But she still apologized.)

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