by Jennifer Pfaff, Palm Beach Illustrated
For generations, the Bush family of American politics has championed literacy as an important cause. Now, Dorothy “Doro” Bush Koch, daughter of President George H.W. Bush, is helping lead the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, the nonprofit founded by her mother 25 years ago. “She strongly believed that most of society’s other challenges—crime, quality of life, global competitiveness—could be solved through literacy,” Koch says of her mother. The foundation, whose “mission is to make literacy a core value in every home in America,” Koch says, has boosted its involvement in Palm Beach and recently hosted a reception at The Breakers. Beyond the nonprofit’s work, Koch is also doing her part on a personal level: She’s released a new edition of My Father, My President (Grand Central Publishing, $29.98), her 2006 New York Times best-seller that provides her account of her father’s time in the Oval Office.
PBI: Why is literacy an important cause to you?
DBK: My mother’s early understanding that family-based approaches could reverse illiteracy trends in America was really ahead of her time. … But even today, more than 36 million adults can’t read, fill out a job application or make sure their children are taking the right medicines.
I share my mother’s passion and am very inspired by her. I’ve seen firsthand the importance of children being able to sit on their parents’ laps to take in a story. Parents are their children’s first teachers—and reading is the first “subject”!
What are your goals for the foundation?
We’ve [been] expanding literacy programs—we just doubled the number of Teen Trendsetters programs we have running in Palm Beach County this school year [which helps elementary school students who are very behind in reading on grade level]. We’re also focused on building conversations online. Our helpthemread.org site offers “edutainment”—a fun way to learn about the importance of education.
What’s been your proudest achievement with the foundation?
Two years ago, when my mother created a succession plan for the foundation, it also put in motion this amazing transformation—literally—from a private, donor-advised model to a national public charity that has earned 501c3 nonprofit status. All of the foundation’s programs growth that has occurred since then, and all the new supporters joining us, have been amazing. Being a leading advocate for this national conversation as a public charity gives us new, exciting opportunities.
What are some of your favorite books, both from when you were a child and now as an adult?
I loved Winnie the Pooh (Penguin Young Readers, $19.99) by A.A. Milne when I was little, because it’s what my mother read to me at bedtime. I love fiction and recently read Me Before You (Penguin Books, $16) by Jo Jo Moyes—and loved it! I am currently enjoying Charleston: A Novel (Ecco, $25.99), by Margaret Bradham Thornton, a Palm Beach resident. It was a gift from (part-time Palm Beacher) Mila Mulroney.
How do you enjoy spending your time in Palm Beach?
I have a bit of a crush on The Breakers. It is like stepping back in time—not just the amazing historic, beautiful stature of the property but “the ladies and gentlemen” who work there. Strolling down Worth Avenue, especially decorated for the holidays, is fun. I like zipping into Deborah Koepper’s salon; it’s very bright and quiet. I love walking, so it is great that Palm Beach is becoming more pedestrian-friendly.