Four former presidents at Barbara Bush’s funeral
Seated near the front of the church, in the same pew, were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama with their wives and current first lady Melania Trump
Four former presidents joined ambassadors and other mourners on a grey, rainy Saturday at the private funeral for former first lady Barbara Bush, filling the nation’s largest Episcopal church a day after more than 6,000 people paid their respects to the woman known by many as “America’s matriarch”.
Former President George H.W. Bush was helped into the cavernous sanctuary with a wheelchair behind his sons, former President George W. Bush and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and other Bush relatives to remember his wife of 73 years.
Barbara Bush died at their home in Houston on Tuesday at age 92.
Seated near the front of the church, in the same pew, were two other former presidents – Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – along with their wives and current first lady Melania Trump.
Flags were flown at half-mast for the wife of the nation’s 41st president and mother of the nation’s 43rd as the service began at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, as the choir sang “My Country Tis of Thee.”
The church was adorned with sprays of yellow garden roses, yellow snap dragons, antique hydrangeas and other flowers.
Among the other roughly 1,500 guests were former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and professional golfer Phil Mickelson, along with Karl Rove, and other former White House staff.
President Donald Trump isn’t attending to avoid security disruptions and “out of respect for the Bush family and friends attending the service,” according to the White House.
He released a statement Saturday saying his “thoughts and prayers” are “with the entire Bush family.”
A burial will follow at the Bush Library at Texas A&M University, about 100 miles (161 kilometres) northwest of Houston.
The burial site is in a gated plot surrounded by trees and near a creek where the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Robin, who died of leukaemia in 1953, is buried.
The family said Barbara Bush had selected son Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, to deliver a eulogy along with her long-time friend Susan Baker, wife of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2015 biography of her husband.
Meacham recalled Barbara Bush’s quick wit that made her so popular. He also spoke of her devotion to her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, noting he was the “only boy she ever kissed.”
Meacham also said Barbara Bush was “candid and comforting, steadfast and straightforward, honest and loving.”
Jeb Bush joked during his eulogy that his mother called her style of mothering him and his siblings “a benevolent dictatorship – but honestly it wasn’t always benevolent”.
He emphasised how she believed in the power of laughter and that joy should be shared.
He choked up when saying his mother – known for her self-deprecating remarks about her wrinkles and grey hair – was “beautiful” until the very end.
Bush said he felt privileged that he had a “front row” seat to the incredible love story that his parents shared.
On Friday, a total of 6,231 people stopped by the church to pay their respects. Many of the women wore the former first lady’s favourite colour, blue, and trademark pearls.
After seeing how many people had lined up to pay their respects to his wife, former President George H.W. Bush decided to attend – he sat at the front of the church in a wheelchair, offering his hand and smiled as people shook it, for about 15 minutes.
One of just two first ladies to have a child elected president, Barbara Bush was widely admired for her plain-spoken style and her advocacy for causes including literacy and Aids awareness.
Barbara Bush was known as the “enforcer” in her family, the glue who kept the high-powered clan together.