Laura Bush spoke in Benton Harbor Tuesday night at the Economic Club.
Laura Bush spoke in Benton Harbor Tuesday night at the Economic Club.

Archived Story

Former first lady reflects on 8 years in White House

Published 8:15am Wednesday, March 17, 2010

By AARON MUELLER
Dowagiac Daily News

BENTON HARBOR – When Laura Bush recalls her eight years serving as first lady beside her husband and former president George W. Bush, one memory sticks out in her mind.

She described it during her speech to the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Tuesday evening at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor.

It was less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and she was in the crowd at Yankee Stadium for a game of the World Series in which her husband was throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

“He walks out onto the pitchers mound, the only person on the infield, standing alone, when our country is most fearful and vulnerable,” she said. “The greatest honor was to witness not just my husband but all of America facing up to fear and shattering change and standing proud.”

Bush spoke to the crowd of several hundred at the Mendel Center with candor and an element of humor about the struggles of being first lady during a difficult time in the nation’s history, the misconceptions of her husband and her current endeavors.

Laura was the final famous Bush to speak in front of the Economic Club. Her husband George W. Bush, George Bush Sr., Barbara Bush and Jeb Bush were all guests of the club.

One of Bush’s favorite moments as first lady came on Sept. 8, 2001, when she participated in the first National Book Festival, an event she was instrumental in bringing to Washington.

“It was a thrill for me to bring writers and readers together that Saturday to the mall in Washington,” she said. “Looking back, that was probably the last weekend when people could participate in a gathering like that without once in a while nervously glancing over their shoulders or looking up into the sky.”

She then described her feelings from that day of “unimaginable” tragedy.

When she first saw her husband after the attacks, Laura said all they could do was hug.

“We were safe. Our daughters were safe,” she said. “But all we could think about were the thousands of Americans who could not say the same thing about their own loved ones and about the sudden duty that had fallen upon George to lead the nation through the dark shadow that had fallen over it.”

Bush, who called her husband her hero, said she knows a side of the former president that much of the public did not see during that time – a character she called “steadfast and rock solid.”

“For many, he remained a heedless cowboy caricature seen in editorial cartoons, op eds and late night TV shows,” she said. “It bothered me, but it didn’t get to me. Because I know who I am, and I know who George is.”

Laura also discussed the perception the public had of her during her husband’s eight years in office. When he was elected to office, she said reporters repeatedly asked her if she wanted to be like Hillary Clinton or Barbara Bush.

“My answer was always the same,” she said. “I think I’ll be Laura Bush.”

Bush felt she was painted by the media to be “the stereotypical 1950s housewife.”

But she said she was just “a person who doesn’t think it necessary to say everything you feel or tell everything you know.”

Post-White House life has been a relief for the Bushes. She said they have moved to a new home in Dallas, are writing their memoirs and readjusting to “normal life.”

“But I think I may have forgotten what normal is,” she said. “When you’re married to the president of the United States, you don’t worry too much about him leaving his wet towels on the floor. But in Dallas, things are different.”

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