By Sally Bradshaw and Kathleen Shanahan, special to the Times
Barbara Pierce Bush loved Florida.
With a son as governor, she was practically an honorary Floridian! No one was prouder of former Gov. Jeb Bush than his mom, and no one a more honest critic when she felt he needed some constructive feedback! But we think her real love of the Sunshine State had much more to do with having grandchildren in Miami and a great daughter-in-law than a son in state politics!
For years, the Bushes vacationed here — in the Florida Keys and at Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande as well. The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy met annually on the southwest coast to ensure that entire families would have the equal opportunity provided by the power of reading. Mrs. Bush's foundation has contributed more than $110 million to programs that have expanded family literacy opportunities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and it is the largest provider of literacy services to adults reading below a third grade level.
Through the foundation's XPRIZE challenge, the foundation provides support for 160 programs. The facts speak for themselves. Nearly half of all preschoolers (46 percent) entering Barbara Bush Foundation family literacy programs were at risk for developmental delays. By the end of the year, only 14 remained at risk, representing a 70 percent decrease in the number of children at risk for developmental delays. Parents enrolled in the foundation's family literacy programs, on average, improved their literacy skills by two grade levels in one year. Florida was proud to be one of the top fundraising platforms for this most important and impactful work.
Barbara Pierce Bush's passing is in many ways the beginning of the end of an era where public service truly meant selfless service to the public. During their years in the spotlight, she and President George H.W. Bush always acted with genuine compassion, respect and understanding for those less fortunate, and they sought to provide opportunity for everyone.
But her passing does not have to mean an end to what our politics used to represent. Though she would surely be embarrassed by the attention and the accolades, Mrs. Bush's life was an important reminder of the values we should teach our own children, and those that our elected leaders should strive to emulate. Service to others. Seeking and finding the good in all. Random acts of kindness. Gratitude. Humility. And joy.
Both of us had the unique opportunity to work for the 41's in the White House as well as to work for Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida as two of his chiefs of staff. We saw firsthand the quiet leadership of character, loyalty and humor Mrs. Barbara Bush exhibited in support of the family she loved, especially when we were reminded of her "enforcer" expectations around staff-provided briefing papers for her events. You better own every fact in every briefing document, since she always read every page and always had a question or two before the event.