Final farewell to first lady Barbara Bush

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"With faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the body of our sister Barbara Pierce Bush for burial. Let us pray with confidence to God, the Giver of life, that he will raise her to perfection in the company of the saints."

Those were the first words uttered by Rector Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson Jr. at the private funeral service for former first lady Barbara Bush late on Saturday morning at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.

Rev. Levenson was a co-celebrant for the 90-minute service. His co-celebrant was Rev. Dr. Peter Cheney, the chaplain at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Kennebunkport, Maine, the town where President George H.W. Bush and Barbara spent many summers to avoid the Texas heat.

The former president honored his wife, and her life's commitment to literacy, at the funeral by wearing a pair of socks featuring books.


Some 1,500 guests attended the by-invitation-only service, including first lady Melania Trump, former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former first lady and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary, and former President Barack Obama and his wife, former first lady Michelle.


The Bush family announced on Friday that Barbara Bush had selected son Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, to deliver a eulogy, along with her longtime 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.

Jeb Bush joked that his mother called her style of raising him and his siblings "'a benevolent dictatorship' - but honestly, it wasn't always benevolent." She was widely admired for her plainspoken style during her husband George H.W. Bush's presidency and was known as "The Enforcer" in her high-powered family.

Jeb Bush said he could feel her presence Saturday inside the nation's largest Episcopal church and that she would likely have given him advice: "Jeb, keep it short. Don't drag this out," he said to chuckles. He met her expectations with a speech lasting about seven minutes.

He choked up at one point while addressing the roughly 1,500 people seated inside St. Martin's Episcopal Church, where his parents regularly worshipped, when saying his mother - known for her self-deprecating remarks about her wrinkles and white-gray hair - was "beautiful" until the very end.

His father, a prolific writer of love letters to his wife, laughed when his son read a letter from their wedding anniversary in 1994. It began: "Will you marry me? Oops! I forgot we did that, 49 years ago." But when his son continued reading, about how his father grew happier each year spent with his wife, his father closed his eyes and cried. Jeb Bush later hugged his father and kissed him on the cheek.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2015 biography on the former president, recalled during his eulogy Barbara Bush's devotion to her husband of 73 years, noting he was the "only boy she ever kissed." Theirs was the longest marriage of any presidential couple.

Meacham said Barbara Bush was also known for bringing awareness to AIDS patients and for her work promoting literacy , which her husband subtly honored Saturday by wearing socks printed with blue, red and yellow books.

"Barbara Bush was the first lady of the Greatest Generation," Meacham said, a nod to the generation that fought in World War II.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush served as one of the eight designated pallbearers for his grandmother's funeral service.

Namesake granddaughter Barbara Pierce Bush read the second lesson during the service while her twin sister Jenna Bush Hager was one of the canticle readers.

Following the funeral service, the Bush family proceeded by motorcade through Memorial Park toward the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station where Mrs. Bush was buried.

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 leukemia in 1953, is buried.


Associated Press journalists Juan A. Lozano in Houston, John L. Mone and Mark Humphrey in College Station, Texas, and Julie Watson in San Diego, contributed to this report.