George H.W. and Barbara Bush‘s epic love story is chronicled in a new book by their granddaughter Ellie LeBlond Sosa that reveals details about the former first couple’s “secret” engagement and advice on a lasting marriage. (“It’s a two-way street!”)
A week before her death on April 17 at the age of 92, Barbara Bush gave a last interview for Sosa’s book, George and Barbara: A Great American Love Story, out Friday. According to Sosa, Barbara was “still bright and candid — and in love with my grandfather.”
“You have to go 75 percent of the way,” Barbara said after Sosa asked for marital advice, according to the book. “Be thoughtful and make things nice for your husband or wife … it’s a two-way street.”
She added, “I believe I’ve had a very happy marriage and I’m having a happy marriage.”
George and Barbara shows how deeply Sosa’s grandparents loved and respected each other. The book references some of the numerous love letters the couple wrote each other during WWII, and reveals that George was adamant about remaining sexually abstinent until he was married.
“Some men and women who were uncertain of their fates decided to skip the long-established rule of waiting until marriage, but George and his older brother Prescott did not agree,” Sosa writes.
George and Barbara shared their first kiss before he left for training, which was “a first for both of them.”
While it’s well-known that the young couple married on Jan. 6, 1945, after a “secret” engagement, the book sheds light on how news of their engagement first leaked. During WWII, George served as a Navy pilot, while Barbara pursued studies at Smith College before eventually dropping out. They’d privately agreed to get married when George returned home on leave, but Sosa writes that their secret didn’t last long.
“A classmate at Smith kept pressing Barbara to go out on a double date,” Sosa writes. “After Barbara declined a few times, the classmate decided she must not like men and said she was an item with her roommate, Margie. That’s when Margie told everyone Barbara was actually engaged to George Bush.”
After word got out, the couple told their parents and friends. Their wedding announcement ran in The New York Times, and George made sure to keep a copy.
It remained in his wallet for decades, Sosa writes.
The book also excerpts one love letter George wrote to Barbara on Dec. 12, 1943.
“I love you, precious, with all of my heart and to know that you love me means my life,” he said. “How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours some day. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you.”
The couple’s son, former President George W. Bush, pays tribute to his parents’ 73-Year marriage in the foreword for the book, writing, “Because they were more committed to their marriage than they were to themselves, they were each willing to sacrifice their own needs in order to satisfy the other’s. Throughout my life, Mother and Dad demonstrated truly selfless love.”
The couple’s deep connection supported a relationship that spanned more than seven decades. Together George and Barbara navigated their daughter’s death (Robin died of leukemia when she was three), and the ups and downs of George’s political career and failed reelection bid. (George H.W. Bush served one term as the 41st U.S. president and his son George W. Bush went on to serve two terms as the 43rd president.)
Even when their health began to fail, the Bushes’ love gave them strength.
“Their doctor suggested that consider sleeping in separate beds because rest is so important at their age,” Sosa writes. “But they refused for as long as possible. George argued that when he woke in the middle of the night, he needed to be able to reach out and know that Barbara was there.”
Since Barbara’s death, George H.W. Bush, 93, has been in and out of the hospital. But he still considers himself lucky.
“Enjoying a great book and a wonderful walk down memory lane this morning,” George H.W. Bush tweeted on Friday, holding a copy of his granddaughter’s book. “Yet another reminder of just how lucky I have been in life.”
George and Barbara: A Great American Love Story by Ellie LeBlond Sosa and Kelly Anne Chase is on sale now.
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