As news broke that First Lady Barbara Bush would not seek further medical treatment despite her failing health, some of her dearest friends are bracing for goodbye — and looking back on her 73-year marriage to husband George H.W. Bush.
John Sununu, the White House chief of staff under former President Bush, tells PEOPLE of the former first couple: “This is a couple that married young, stayed in love through their whole life.”
Mrs. Bush, now 92, was just 16 when met her husband at a Christmas dance. The pair soon became engaged and wed on Jan. 6, 1945.
Bonnie Steinroeder, the Bush’s longtime friend and former pastor at the First Congregational Church in Kennebunkport, Maine, previously told PEOPLE of the couple, “They were so happy together and so committed to each other. They were always so kind to one another. They’ve been role models in a lot of ways.”
George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush’s wedding
That sense of commitment stayed strong through the Bushes’ years in the White House, from 1989 to 1993.
Says Sununu, “When we in the White House thought of them, we thought of them as a team. Although she didn’t make her presence known in the White House, it was obvious to all of us that the president relied on her, listened to her advice, and considered her an important part of the process he went through on all the tough decisions.”
George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush
The president wasn’t the only one who depended on Mrs. Bush’s wit and wisdom. As the matriarch of the Bush family, “Barbara Bush was always the rock of the family, she was the one they all depended on to keep everything together,” Sununu says.
The Bushes’ longtime friend Ambassador C. Boyden Gray, who was White House counsel to the former president, agrees that Mrs. Bush, 92, is “the glue that holds the family together” and adds that “she was enormously helpful to President Bush when he was president.”
George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush with their family at the White House in 1989
In a statement Sunday from the office of the former president, a spokesperson said that “following a recent series of hospitalizations, and after consulting her family and doctors, Mrs. Bush, now age 92, has decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care.”
The statement continued, “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. She is surrounded by a family she adores, and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving.”
Barbara Bush’s granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager said Monday that her grandmother was in “great spirits” in the wake of the announcement.
“We are grateful for her,” said an emotional Jenna in an interview with NBC News’ Today. “She the best grandma anybody could have ever had — or have.”
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