A ‘Second Lady’ First in Fight Against Illiteracy : Barbara Bush Speaks to Club 100 Luncheon at the Music Center

Times Staff Writer

Vice President George Bush was quoted in San Francisco as saying, “I know what is beating in my breast. I guess most of the American people, including my wife, know what that is.”

But Second Lady Barbara Bush declined to tell at Club 100’s luncheon honoring her in the Blue Ribbon Room of the Music Center last week. When asked to elaborate, in a question-and-answer session, she said, “Isn’t that interesting,” demurred with a coy raise of the eyebrow and did a discreet two-step away from the microphone.

She had wanted to talk only about adult illiteracy. In any event, she kept the women, who like to know all , ignorant of amplification on what Bush must have meant--that he’d like to be president someday.

However, as she was escorted from the podium, she broke rank, placed a gentle hand on the arm of the questioner and whispered, “Forgive me, forgive me.”

Experienced Campaigner

Mrs. Bush is expected to be a heavy campaigner for her husband, should he run. She’s experienced at campaigning: the Music Center talk was her 303rd speech, she noted, on adult illiteracy.


She told her nearly 200-member audience, “When I realized my George was going to run for high office, I decided that I should find a cause. . . . I worry about crime . . . I worry about unemployment . . . I worry about peace . . . I worry about hunger--all those things--and I realized all those things would be better if more people could read.”

When Barbara Bush refers to adult illiteracy, she means adults who can’t write checks, can’t read medicine bottles, can’t read to their children--their children often read to them, and it’s an embarrassment.

“Very possibly one-fifth of our population . . . is functionally illiterate,” she told the group. “Four point 5 million adults in California may be included in this count.” And she added, illiteracy tends to breed illiteracy as illustrated in the correlation between school success and the educational environment in the home. “If you want one of life’s great experiences . . . tutor another person.”

Honorary Chairman

Such a staunch advocate of literacy was just what Club 100 needed for its newly announced Book Fair on June 6-8. President Mrs. Herbert (Joyce) Rosenblum, who introduced Mrs. Bush, announced the Second Lady has accepted the post of honorary national chairman of the mammoth book collection drive, which officially begins Thursday in partnership with Vons Grocery Co. The goal is 250,000 volumes “or a tower of books four miles high.”

The Book Fair will be held in conjunction with the Music Center’s biannual Mercado, a fund-raising extravaganza on the Music Center Plaza.

Last week, Barbara Bush stood alongside Mrs. Rosenblum; Mrs. David Ruderman, Club 100 vice president/special events and luncheon chairman; Mrs. Donald Hays, vice president of Vons; and Mrs. Marco Weiss, Mercado co-chairman. They were photographed with the book collection barrels that will be located at 120 Vons stores in Los Angeles and Orange counties from Thursday to Oct. 9.

Books collected will be sold at the Book Fair as a fund-raiser for the Music Center Education Division, which serves more than 325,000 children, students and teachers.

Active Volunteer

Nationally, Mrs. Bush is on the board of Reading Is Fundamental and the Business Council for Effective Literacy. She makes a point to note that she is an active volunteer to stress her endorsement of the concept of volunteerism--people giving of their time and energies for the betterment of others.

She urged Club 100 members, whose major cause is fund raising for the Music Center, to contact publishers, politicians, people with clout to persuade them to join the cause against illiteracy. “We have done so well for children; you can do equally well for their parents. Remember, illiteracy is a curable disease . . . we just have to care enough.”

In answer to a question from Mrs. David Ludwick, she replied, “I am of the school of thought that to be a first-class citizen in the United States of America, you should speak English. I have Mexican-American grandchildren. I want them to speak English and I want them to speak Spanish. I wouldn’t mind if they spoke French, either.”

To the suggestion from another in the audience that she should sponsor a national congress in Washington such as Nancy Reagan sponsored on drug abuse, she quipped, “That’s the difference between being the First Lady (and Second Lady) . . . if you’re First . . . as a spokesman, you have the credibility to do this.”

In the meantime, she noted, she speaks about illiteracy a lot: “I do it every day . . . and the media is wonderful about reporting it. You probably don’t hear about it here, but in Topeka, Kan., I was very big. It gets out, and that’s about where I should be in my position.”

As she spoke, her listeners could almost hear that hope beating in her breast too.