WASHINGTON — Barbara Bush, the seriously ill wife and mother of presidents who has long been among the most popular members of her famous family, has decided to stop seeking medical treatment to prolong her life, a spokesman said Sunday.
Bush, who is 92 and frail, has been in and out of the hospital but has now forsworn further interventions and “will instead focus on comfort care,” according to a statement issued by her husband’s office in Houston.
“It will not surprise those who know her that Barbara Bush has been a rock in the face of her failing health, worrying not for herself — thanks to her abiding faith — but for others,” the statement said. “She is surrounded by a family she adores, and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving.”
Bush was resting at the family home in Houston. Her husband, former President George Bush, was with her, along with her children Neil, Marvin and Dorothy. Her two eldest sons, former President George W. Bush and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, have both been to visit in recent days and were calling frequently Sunday, according to a person close to the family.
Barbara Bush suffers from congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. In recent years, she has needed a walker and an oxygen tank, and her public appearances have grown fewer. In an update published by the alumnae magazine of her alma mater, Smith College, she wrote, “I am still old and still in love with the man I married 72 years ago.”
Her failing health drew statements of concern and affection from many, especially in the extended world of Bush friends, allies and former aides.
Andrew H. Card Jr., who was transportation secretary in the first Bush administration and White House chief of staff in the second, had lunch with Barbara and George Bush a few weeks ago and said the former first lady still retained her spirit.
“She is more than a matriarch,” Card said by telephone Sunday. “She was a greater conscience to her husband, to her sons, to her daughter and to those who had the benefit of being in her proximity. She was an unvarnished purveyor of the truth and motivated us all to be better people. And she was also contagious with love.”
Born Barbara Pierce on June 8, 1925, she grew up in Rye, New York, and was 16 when she met George Bush at a school dance. They stayed in touch when he enlisted as a Navy pilot in World War II and married in 1945. They moved to Texas, where George Bush built an oil business and eventually ran for office. She helped his political career with a methodically kept card file of people he met, building a network that the two would maintain throughout their lives.
George Bush was elected vice president in 1980, and president eight years later. Barbara Bush served as first lady from 1989 to 1993, the silver-haired matron of the White House who promoted literacy and became known for her bracing candor and sometimes tart tongue that belied her grandmotherly image. She founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and wrote two autobiographies, plus two books in the voices of family dogs, C. Fred and Millie.
She and George Bush had six children, two of whom would go on to run for president — George W., who won twice, and Jeb, who lost the Republican nomination in 2016 — as well as 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Barbara Bush joined Abigail Adams as the only woman in U.S. history to be the wife and mother of presidents.
Their first daughter, Robin, died of leukemia at age 3 and is buried at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas. George and Barbara Bush plan to be interred next to her.