This week we truly lost an icon in literacy with the passing of Barbara Bush at 92. While there have been other champions for literacy, Barbara Bush was in a league of her own. Mrs. Bush was different than others who have promoted the value of literacy and importance of reading—she always went further. Not content with being the nation’s great “cheerleader” for literacy, as she used to say, she took it a step beyond by seeking support and new allies in the effort to expand literacy programs everywhere.
In her roles as wife of the vice president and president and mother of another president, she was tireless in her efforts to influence, persuade, and sometimes cajole others of importance to take on this vital cause. She was instrumental in pushing federal departments to do more. She pushed corporate leaders and celebrities to “get behind the cause.” She would host breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings to ask public and private thought leaders what they could do to help promote the issue. They rarely left without having made a new commitment to literacy.
Her efforts were successful and led to a litany of new and innovative programs and initiatives to promote adult and family literacy. She pushed for additional funding from both the public and private sector, and donated the proceeds of her books to literacy programs including ProLiteracy and our predecessor organizations, Laubach Literacy and Literacy Volunteers of America.
When I last saw her on her 90th birthday in Kennebunkport, Maine, she was as active and passionate about literacy as in our first meeting in 1982. Her compelling appeal for more support was as strong and forceful as ever. Her commitment to this issue was as strong as ever and she was continuing to work the party in support of more visibility, recognition, and resources for our field. She never missed an opportunity to get someone else to help in the cause.
She will be missed, not just as the selfless promoter of literacy that she was; not just for the tireless advocate for students, programs, and volunteers; not just for her work to put more resources into the hands of programs; but also as the personification of what our issue means and what it can be. Her legacy needs to be continued in the work we do to make literacy the nation’s most important issue. She would expect nothing less.