Grace in Life ... and in Death

April 18, 2018

BarbaraBushBarbara Bush, Chef Laurent Richard, President George Bush at The Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park – September 2004

This past week, Barbara Bush taught this country – and the world – one final lesson: how to die with grace. Letting go for someone who loved and enjoyed life so fully could not have been easy. And yet, as she did in life, Barbara Bush, ever the pragmatist, decided that there would be no more hospitalizations, there would instead be time with family, at home.

I was so moved by what I read of Barbara’s last day. Her family members read aloud to her, her husband held her hand. In the embrace of her family – she passed away. A good and noble ending for a good and noble woman.

I’ve had the privilege of knowing Barbara Bush for over three decades. We both served on the Mayo Clinic board of trustees. I’ve seen her in public appearances on the campaign trail and in unguarded moments in Kennebunkport with family and friends. What always struck me about her was that the public Barbara was the same as the private one. She was who she was, with no apologies. And who she was certainly helped shape not one, but two presidents, but also brought lightness and joy to the lives of those around her.

One of my favorite memories of Barbara was when Donna and I hosted a dinner in 2004 in New York City for the Bush family while they were in town for the Convention nominating George W. Bush to his second term as President. The dinner was held at The Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park, roughly six blocks from ground zero. It was an emotional time and we chose this location deliberately – part demonstration of our commitment to the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, part validation of the city’s resilience and, likely, ours as well.

The staff at The Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park went above and beyond. They served us an amazing meal, allowing the Bush family to have some quiet and private time outside the buzz of the convention. The finest moment of the evening came at the end. The dessert was unlike anything any of us had seen – sugar spun into the shape of the great state of Texas, on it perched delicious treats in the shape of a boot, a cowboy hat, a longhorn—every detail a nod to the Bush’s home state and a confection almost too lovely to eat.

The minute it was put in front of Barbara, she started cheering and taking pictures of her dessert. She immediately said, “I need to meet the person who did this!” Pastry Chef Laurent Richard hastily came to the room at which point the whole family erupted in a standing ovation, led by Barbara. Greeting Chef Richard like a long-lost friend, she savored every detail he shared about what went into creating this incredible treat – but more than that, Barbara relished the chef’s gesture to her family, the time and the work that went into creating this moment. I’m fairly certain Chef Richard floated out of the room that night.

It’s funny how one memory can live on. I think this one does for me because it captures the essence of Barbara – her kindness, her warmth, her sparkle. Barbara made everyone feel like they were home, regardless of who they were. It is so fitting that when it came time to say goodbye that she was at home, surrounded by the people she loved.

The tributes that are being written to this amazing woman celebrate her life – her commitment to public service, her passion around literacy, the priority she placed on family, the strength she derived from her faith, and the exclusive club she inhabited being one of just two women in history who served as both First Lady and mother of a U.S. president.

And all of those accolades are true. But for me, the memory of the simple act of Barbara Bush cheering our wonderful pastry chef speaks volumes of her humanity. And that is what we will all miss the most.

Thank you, Barbara, for your friendship and your light in our lives. Rest well, dear friend.

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