A Bittersweet Address : Speech: Barbara Bush, at Nixon Library hours before ex-President’s death, reminisces about him and late wife Pat.


In a rare public appearance, former First Lady Barbara Bush spoke Friday at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, saying that her prayers were with the 37th President.

Bush, whose appearance and speech had been scheduled long before Nixon’s Monday stroke, entertained 1,200 people with anecdotes from her four years in the White House. But before talking about state dinners and the sense of peace she has attained in private life, she reminisced about her friendship with Nixon and his wife Pat, who died last year.

“It’s extremely important that we all gather together at the Nixon Library to celebrate Pat and Dick Nixon. He’s on all of our minds,” Bush said some hours before the former President’s death was announced.


Bush recalled the numerous times Nixon offered advice and support to her, especially when the then-First Lady and President George Bush felt besieged by the media.

During the controversy over whether homemaker Barbara Bush should deliver the commencement address at Wellesley College, an all-women’s school in Massachusetts, “the best letter I received was from Dick Nixon,” she recalled. “He said he was outraged, and that I should go out there and give them hell.”

Before Bush spoke, John Taylor, director of the Nixon Library & Birthplace, said he was pleased that Bush agreed to speak despite Nixon’s condition. Taylor asked the audience to remember the Nixon family, telling them that Nixon was “still fighting.”

Taylor said that Nixon had given a thumbs-up sign to the doctors who were treating him before he fell into the deep coma from which he never recovered.

“Richard Nixon liked to quote Sophocles, that ‘one must wait until the evening to know how splendid the day was.’ Monday evening at home, as he sat on the back deck enjoying the evening, Richard Nixon was reflecting on how splendid the past few weeks have been,” Taylor said.

After Bush’s remarks, members of the predominantly female audience praised her effort. Hilda Panhorst of Yorba Linda said Bush was “natural and unassuming.”

Others lauded her promotion of “family values,” saying her homey integrity and the sense of caring she displays are in short supply today.

“I’ve been a longtime admirer of Barbara Bush,” said Jean Beck, 80, of Whittier. “I’m privileged to be here. I don’t think she could do anything wrong.”

Bush regaled the audience with stories about her White House years, including the time Boris Yeltsin teased her when she stepped on his foot.

Looking much the same as she did during her four years in the White House, dressed in a conservative peach suit with her hair well-coiffed, Bush said she and her husband have adjusted easily to private life, thankful that the days of heavy responsibility and constant media attention are over.

These days, when curious people approach her in the grocery store, asking if she’s Barbara Bush, she says, “Oh, no, I’m much younger than she is.”

After Bush’s 40-minute address and a private luncheon, the library’s museum section was reopened, but the gardens and Pat Nixon’s burial site remained closed.