Today is the state funeral of former president George H.W. Bush, who passed away on Friday at the age of 94, just eight months after his wife, Barbara, died at age 92. George and Barbara held the title of longest married couple in presidential history, as the two were together for 73 years. In honor of today’s national day of mourning for the former president, we look back at the Bush’s epic love story that spanned decades.
How they met
George Bush and Barbara Pierce first met at a dance at the Round Hill Country Club, when they were just teenagers (he was 17, she was 16) and only a couple of weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack. He spotted her in a crowd and asked one of his friends to introduce him. “It was a storybook meeting,” he wrote in his autobiography. After their first encounter, the two started a long distance relationship over letters—she was attending boarding school at Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, he was studying at Philips Academy Andover in Massachusetts.
Their first kiss
Before George enlisted in the Navy after turning 18, the two shared their first kiss—the very first for both of them, too. In a letter to his mother, George opened up about that moment. “I kissed Barbara and am glad of it. I don’t believe she will ever regret it or resent it, and I certainly am not ashamed of it,” he wrote. “If Barbara sort of forgets me, which is not unlikely, as I have no chance to see her at all, I don’t believe she will ever dislike me more for having kissed her.”
Before George was sent off to fight in World War II, as one of the youngest naval pilots in the Air Force, the two became engaged. He proposed with a sapphire ring that belonged to his aunt, Nancy Walker. While away, George named all three of his bomber planes after Barbara, while she attended Smith College, but she later admitted her focus was more on her beau fighting the war.
When his plane was shot down in 1944, George returned to the U.S. on Christmas Eve. “There were tears, laughs, hugs, joy,” he once said. “No reunion could have been scripted more perfectly.” Just two weeks later, the two tied the knot on January 6, 1945 at the First Presbyterian Church in Rye, New York. The bride wore an ivory satin gown embroidered with pearls and a lace veil borrowed from her mother-in-law. They honeymooned in New York City and Sea Island, Georgia. Thankfully, the war ended shortly after and the newlyweds permanently relocated to Connecticut, where George would be attending Yale University. “I married the first man I ever kissed,” Barbara said to Time Magazine in 1989. “When I tell this to my children, they just about throw up.”
A year after marrying, Barbara gave birth to future president George W. Bush in 1946. Shortly after George graduated, the couple and their child moved to Odessa, Texas, where he started working in the oil business. After suffering a miscarriage, the Bushes had another child, daughter Pauline Robinson Bush (known as Robin) in 1949. But only a few years later, Robin was diagnosed with leukemia, and sadly passed away when she was only three years old. (When he later became president of the United States, George always kept a photo of Robin in the Oval Office.)
After overcoming tragedy, the couple had four more children: John Ellis in 1953, Neil Mallon in 1955, Marvin Pierce in 1956, and Dorothy Walker in 1959.
Their political life
After several state and government roles, including Ambassador to the United Nations and head of the C.I.A., Ronald Reagan tapped him to be his Vice President. After serving eight years alongside Reagan, Bush ran for President in 1988, and Barbara became the first candidate’s spouse to speak at the Republican National Convention. Once George was elected and Barbara became First Lady, she focused mainly on children’s literacy and cancer research and became known for her wit and signature faux pearls. After the first 100 days of her husband’s presidency, Barbara even enjoyed higher approval ratings than George.
Post-White House life
After George H.W. Bush lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, he and Barbara moved back to Texas, where they focused on spending time with their twelve grandchildren and working on their various charities and causes. They later saw their first born, George W. Bush become the 43rd President of the United States in 2000.
Together until the very end
When Barbara was in her final days at the hospital, George was reportedly there holding her hand every day. According to their son Jeb, at one point Barbara opened her eyes and said: “My God, George, you are devastatingly handsome!” Jeb also shares that during one of their last talks, Barbara said she didn’t want to leave George, but knew she would be in a better place. She passed away at age 92 on April 17.
Less than eight months later, her husband died on November 30. In a recent interview, his granddaughter, Barbara Bush (named after his wife), said she believed there was a reason why he passed away last week. “He’d never spent a Christmas without my grandmother,” she told People magazine. “He was ready to be with her again. He never said it, but my thought is that he wanted to be with her for the holiday.” Forever together.