Image credited to Jenna Bush Hager
“For heaven’s sake, enjoy life.”
Former first lady Barbara Bush was known for her literacy programs, her passion for education, and her words of wisdom. Famous for handing out advice to everyone from family to staffers to Supreme Court justices, she always had a comment on what to wear, what to say (or not say!) and how to live life to the fullest.
Now, her best advice has been compiled into the sweet new read “Pearls of Wisdom.”
Her children, grandchildren, aides and friends shared some of the best advice Bush ever gave them. Other advice is excavated from letters and speeches to create a comprehensive volume of her wisdom.
1. “If you have a lot of tension and you get a headache, do what it says on the aspirin bottle: ‘Take two aspirin’ and ‘Keep away from children.'”
A mother of six and grandmother of 17, the first lady spent plenty of time around children of all ages. In a passage from 2003, she wrote about the trials of having six teenage grandchildren staying in the family summer home in Walker’s Point, Maine. This witty, tongue-in-cheek comment was just one of the several things she said she learned about having teenagers in the house that summer.
2. “Don’t complain and don’t explain.”
Ann Brock, Bush’s director of scheduling at the White House, said that she still remembers this advice years after it was said.
“I had messed something up with guests from Texas,” Brock wrote. “I can’t remember exactly what I did or did not do but she was not pleased, and as I was explaining what I thought had happened, she said: ‘Don’t complain and don’t explain.’ She then hung up on me.”
Brock said that she thought about it for a moment before deciding that the then-first lady was correct, and wrote that from that moment on she incorporated that philosophy into her own life.
“So simple, so direct, and so Barbara Bush,” Brock wrote. “Even today I cannot stand it when someone rattles on about why it took them so long or gives a step-by-step reenactment of how they couldn’t get something done. Ugh. Just bottom-line it. Did it get done — yes or no?”
3. “Treat everyone equally, don’t look down on anyone, use your voices for good, read all the great books.”
Bush’s main cause as first lady was literacy, and she spoke often about her love for reading. Jenna Bush Hager, who leads TODAY’s Read With Jenna book club, included this piece of advice from her grandmother in a letter that she wrote to Bush after she passed.
“Oh, how I will miss sharing books with you!” Hager wrote.
4. “For heaven’s sake, enjoy life. Don’t cry over things that were or things that aren’t.”
In 1994, Bush published a memoir about her life. Included in those memoirs was a letter she had written to her children in the spring of 1993 but never mailed, because she “didn’t think it was proper,” according to “Pearls of Wisdom.”
This sweet advice comes from that letter, which is chock-full of do’s and don’t’s for all of her children. In the letter, Bush said that most only ever have two choices: To like what one does, or to dislike it.
“I choose to like it, and what fun I have had,” Bush wrote. “The other choice is no fun, and people do not want to be around a whiner!”
“Pearls of Wisdom: Little Pieces of Advice (That Go a Long Way)” by Barbara Bush
5. “I’m so glad we had a suit for you. Have fun!”
In 1993, George H.W. Bush invited several speechwriters to Kennebunkport, Maine, and included a dip in the ocean on the itinerary. When speechwriter Mary Kate Cary didn’t have a swimsuit, he lent her one of the Bush’s — but when Barbara Bush and several of her Texas friends walked by, Cary said she was worried the former first lady would think she had helped herself to the skirted one-piece.
“I gulped, waiting for a legendary Barbara Bush takedown,” Cary wrote. “There was none. She simply laughed and said ‘I’m so glad we had a suit for you. Have fun!’ And that was the first of many lessons I was able to learn from Mrs. Bush: If you want to enjoy life, you’ve got to be able to roll with it.”
Bush’s flexibility wasn’t limited to borrowed clothes. Cary remembered that Bush was always sure to “make room for all the long-lost friends, the unexpected dinner guests, the staffers who needed bathing suits.”
6. “The goal is to find the balance between going after your dreams AND finding happiness in what you have.”
Quincy Hicks Crawford, who served as an aide to Bush from 1994 to 1998, said that she was given plenty of advice from the then-first lady during her time in the West Wing, but what really stuck was a simple message about how to live a happy life.
“She believed in working hard and going after your dreams, but keeping things in check,” wrote Crawford. “One time she talked about a family member who was never happy with what she had. She had a husband who loved her, but in her eyes he couldn’t prove enough… She had so much but always wanted more of the things she really didn’t need.”
7. “Live your life with love as your guiding principle — keep your family and close friends close.”
Ellie LaBlond Sosa, one of Bush’s granddaughters and the author of ‘George and Barbara Bush: A Great American Love Story,’ cited this sweet lesson as one of the things she remembers most from her grandmother.
“Ganny was never really one to lecture us grandkids with advice about life,” she said in “Pearls of Wisdom.” “She never really told us about the importance of family and close friends. But she lived her life accordingly, and we all watched and learned through her example.”
APRIL 17, 201901:07