WASHINGTON -- Former US first lady Barbara Bush died Tuesday at the age of 92, triggering an outpouring of praise for the matriarch of a Republican family once at the apex of American politics.
Barbara and George H.W. Bush were married for 73 years, and the widower “of course is heart-broken to lose his beloved Barbara,” his chief of staff Jean Becker said in a statement.
“He held her hand all day today and was at her side when (she) left this good Earth.”
The ex-president, who is 93 and has been in ill health in recent years, is “determined to be there” for his family while in mourning, Becker added.
Funeral arrangements were due to be announced soon for Barbara Bush, who was also survived by five of her children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and her brother, Scott Pierce.
She was preceded in death by her second child, Robin, who died of leukemia as a toddler.
In honor of Bush’s life, President Donald Trump ordered that the US flag be flown at half-staff until sundown on the day she is buried, at all public buildings and grounds, as well as military posts and vessels.
Bush has long been considered the rock at the center of one of America’s most prominent political families, as the wife of a president and the mother to another — George W. Bush — and to Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor and onetime presidential aspirant.
She first met her husband-to-be at the age of 16 when she was a schoolgirl and he was a student at an elite preparatory school in Massachusetts. They married in 1945 while he was on leave from wartime service as a naval officer. The couple had six children.
As first lady, from 1989 to 1993, she embraced the cause of universal literacy, and founded a foundation for family literacy.
Tributes poured in from across the political spectrum to honor her life.
Trump hailed her as an “advocate of the American family.”
“Amongst her greatest achievements was recognizing the importance of literacy as a fundamental family value that requires nurturing and protection,” Trump said.
“She will be long remembered for her strong devotion to country and family, both of which she served unfailingly well.”
Her son Jeb wrote: “I’m exceptionally privileged to be the son of George Bush and the exceptionally gracious, gregarious, fun, funny, loving, tough, smart, graceful woman who was the force of nature known as Barbara Bush.”
And his son George P. Bush tweeted: “I will miss you, Ganny — but know we will see you again.”
“Barbara inspired us all to be the best version of ourselves,” said Orrin Hatch, America’s longest-serving Republican senator.
Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama and his wife Michelle said “We’ll always be grateful to Mrs Bush for the generosity she showed to us throughout our time in the White House.”