Barbara Bush’s Big Idea

by Anita McBride, Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, Executive in Residence at American University, and Senior Advisor to the George W. Bush Presidential Center

I recently co-hosted an event honoring She’s the First, a non-profit that supports girls’ education around the world, at which I had the opportunity to say a few words in honor of a woman who has inspired me.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with many incredible women. Among them is a person who has had a long-lasting impact on me as well as my family: former first lady Barbara Bush.The event coincided with the one-year anniversary of her passing and provided a fitting time to reflect on her legacy not only to me but to the nation.

The proof of her influence is readily seen in the “What Would Barbara Do?” sign that hangs in my kitchen. It’s a daily reminder of the many lessons I learned from her about devotion to family and friends, and chief among the many life lessons she leaves behind was her encouragement to serve others, or as she put it: “believe in something larger than yourself…get involved in the big ideas of your time.”

The “big idea” closest to Barbara Bush’s heart was literacy. She chose this cause because she was, first and foremost, a devoted mother who cared deeply about the state of the world that her children and grandchildren would inherit. She believed that all of the difficult issues we face in society — problems like homelessness, crime, hunger, and drugs — would improve if more people could read, write, and comprehend.

Over her four years in the White House as first lady, she put that belief into action by establishing the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Through the Foundation, she worked to create a more literate America, improving the lives of countless parents and children nationwide and impacting the communities where they lived.

Three decades later, Barbara Bush’s big idea is still going strong. Literacy remained her lifelong passion — one that she passed down to her children and grandchildren. Her daughter, Doro Bush Koch, now serves as Honorary Chair of the Barbara Bush Foundation, carrying on the life-changing work that her mother began. New president and CEO British Robinson recently joined the team, bringing innovative ideas and an unwavering dedication to the mission.

As the Foundation celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, I am thrilled to know that Barbara Bush’s legacy is being guided by such strong leadership. And I take comfort in knowing, as a mother who often reflects on that sign of what Barbara would do, that her vision will continue to impact and strengthen American families for generations to come.

Originally published on the Barbara Bush Foundation’s Medium page.

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