Former First Lady Barbara Bush leaves legacy in SWFL

Reporter: Lois Thome Writer: Lenny Smith
Published: Updated:

Former First Lady Barbara Bush, the matriarch of a republican political dynasty, died Tuesday at the age of 92.

Barbara brought her passion for reading for nearly 20 years to Southwest Florida.

Bush believed if people are able to read and write, they have an equal chance of achieving the American Dream. That belief is the basis of her family literacy foundation.

“Thank you for coming we are so grateful to you for all you do for literacy,” Barbara said.

Her son, former Gov. Jeb Bush launched the “Florida Celebration of Reading” in 2001. The event brought the Bush family, other popular authors to Bonita Springs and raised more than $26 million in its 17 years for Barbara Bush’s foundation.

Diane Ponton, of Grace Place in Golden Gate, said the classroom benefited from the foundation.

“What a great compliment to have someone who is so passionate about family learning (and) literacy want to support our program,” Ponton said.

At Grace Place, parents attend pre-school with their child, and English is a second language for most.

Barbara was also one of two first ladies to be a mother of a president.

However, Barbara publicly opposed the idea of her second son, Jeb, considering a run for the White House.

“I always listen to my mother, I don’t always follow her advice, (and) got in trouble sometimes for not following it,” Jeb said.

Jeb ran in the 2016 presidential election, and Barbara was at his side for the campaign launch. She also traveled to New Hampshire to stump for voters for the former Florida governor.

The Bush family spent many years vacationing on Boca Grande in Lee County, but made fewer visits as she got older.

WINK News reporter Kristi Gross spoke to residents about Barbara Bush’s time in Southwest Florida.

They often stayed at the Gasparilla Inn and Club on Boca Grande.

“They had weddings here, family lived here. I think they just got used to them being here,” said Janie Sturtevant, a snowbird visiting Boca Grande.

Barbara attended the Celebration of Reading in 2013, and called into the event to show her support in recent years.

“George and I are so sorry we couldn’t be there this year, it hurts me,” she said. “Old age is fun … sometimes.”

Barbara  leaves a literary legacy that will live on through her foundation, and many families she’s helped have realized their American dream.

Tributes to the former first lady poured in Tuesday night.

The Trumps’ “join in on celebrating the life of Barbara Bush,” according to a statement from the White House and the president’s Twitter page.

Barbara was hailed as “an advocate of the American family,” the president said in a statement.

Former President George W. Bush said he and his family are saddened by the death of his mother, but their “souls are settled because we know hers was.”

Funeral services will take place Saturday at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, where she and former President George H.W. Bush regularly attended.

When asked, the inn declined comment out of respect and privacy for the family.

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