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Former George H.W. Bush Speechwriter Remembers Barbara Bush

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Houston, where family members, friends, and dignitaries celebrated the life of former first lady Barbara Bush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEB BUSH: The last time I was with her, I asked her about dying. Was she ready to go? Was she sad? Without missing a beat, she said, Jeb, I believe in Jesus and he is my savior. I don't want to leave your dad, but I know I'll be in a beautiful place.

MARTIN: That was Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, son of the former first lady, speaking about his last moments with his mother. Mrs. Bush died Thursday at the age of 92. She was only the second woman in U.S. history to have been both first lady and the mother of a president. After the service, Mrs. Bush was laid to rest on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.

I'll have some reflections about Mrs. Bush at the end of this program, but first, we wanted to hear from Mary Kate Cary, former speechwriter for former President George H.W. Bush, a friend of the family who attended the service, and she's with us now. Mary Kate, thank you so much for joining us at this difficult time - our condolences.

MARY KATE CARY: Aw, thank you very much. You can't see me, but I have my authentic plastic Barbara Bush pearls on in honor of her.

MARTIN: Oh, wonderful. Can you give us a picture of what the day looked like? You were at the funeral.

CARY: It was really a spectacular sendoff. A couple of things struck me, one, was how many volunteers there were from all over Houston who I don't think were necessarily all needed. They outnumbered the guests, probably five to one. I think they wanted to be a part of it and to say goodbye to her themselves. Another thing I noticed was the - in the sort of, you know, gawky way the people watching was spectacular. Your old buddy, Sam Donaldson, was there, Michel.

MARTIN: Oh, OK.

CARY: Chuck Norris, Phil Mickelson and Chrissie Everett, the Oak Ridge Boys, and up front, you know, there were the world leaders and former presidents. But right behind the family was the home health aides and Mrs. Bush's personal aides for the last few decades, all the women who were, you know, right at her side helping her for years. And I thought that said volumes about her choices.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, since Tuesday, we've heard a lot of stories about the first lady. And one of the things we've heard or been reminded of is that the Secret Service gave Barbara Bush the code name Tranquility, but her family nicknamed her The Enforcer - which is more apt?

CARY: I was never on the receiving end of the enforcement. Jeb was joking about her being a benevolent dictator, not so benevolent sometimes. And I never saw that side. We always called her the silver fox in the speech writing office because that's what the president called her. So that was sort of halfway between, I guess, more on the tranquility side, I guess.

MARTIN: We only have about half a - we only have about half a minute left but you - before we let you go, you wrote a funny piece for The Washington Post about the time you borrowed one of her bathing suits, OK, and she was quite nice about it. We don't have time to tell the whole story, but what did you learn from that experience?

CARY: Just her grace at all times and how kind she was. The message that came through today in a lot of the eulogies was how she was a strong Christian and yet tolerant at the same time and those two aren't always the same thing. And so I learned a lot about what a life of faith she led and the choices she made, in the ceremony today - tells you volumes about her.

MARTIN: That was Mary Kate Cary, Republican political analyst, former speechwriter during the administration of George H.W. Bush. Mary Kate, thank you so much for speaking with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.