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Barbara Bush on 90th birthday: 'I've been the luckiest woman in the world'

by Eun Kyung Kim /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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Unlike her husband on his 90th birthday, don’t expect Barbara Bush to jump out of a plane to take a celebratory skydive.

Instead, the former first lady will celebrate her birthday Monday in her own way, speaking her mind and expressing tons of gratitude for an extensive family she has helped keep together for decades.

“I've been the luckiest woman in the world, truthfully. And I know it,” she told her granddaughter, TODAY correspondent Jenna Bush Hager.

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Bush reflected on her very fortunate life during a visit to the family’s summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. She recalled meeting her future husband at a school dance when she was 16.

“I could hardly breathe, I thought he was so beautiful,” she said. For their first date, George H.W. Bush strategically borrowed a car.

“He told me later, ‘I got the Oldsmobile because it had a radio. And I was afraid we'd have nothing to say to each other,’” she recalled with a laugh. “And he tells the world now that I've not stopped talking in 75 years.”

 The Bush family, together to celebrate Barbara Bush's 90th birthday. Office of George Bush

The couple married three years later, and Barbara Bush saw her husband through a lifetime of adventures starting with his service in the Navy. They then lived abroad in China while her husband headed the U.S. liaison office. He later became director of the CIA and, ultimately, the nation’s 41st president.

While serving as first lady, Bush became known for her visits to AIDS care centers, where she would physically embrace disease-stricken patients to assure the public that AIDS could not be contracted through casual contact.

She also started the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, which has raised more than $40 million to promote reading.

 Barbara Bush celebrates her 90th birthday in Maine with granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager. TODAY

But perhaps she was best remembered for her snow white hair and ever-constant strand of pearls that contributed to a grandmotherly image. Bush said that was fine with her. She had specific reasons for her look.

“The pearls are to cover the wrinkles, which they no longer do. You can't wear pearls all over your face," she said.

She also never colored her hair because it interfered with her love of sports.

“The white hair was because I wanted to play golf. I wanted to play tennis. I wanted to swim and my hair turned, as I'm sure someone else will tell you, orange, green, yellow, depending upon how much chlorine in the pool,” she said. “So I decided to go white.”

But beneath her appearance has always been a steel core: The entire Bush family refers to her as the “enforcer.”

“Because I enforce,” she explained with a laugh. “If you do something bad, I point it out to you.”

With the recent start of another political campaign season, there may be many opportunities for Bush to point out slips among her family. But she said she plans to keep those blunders to herself.

“I've promised that during this next campaign season, I will not talk,” she said. “I won't give any interviews.”

Unless, she clarified, the public goes after her son, Jeb, who is highly expected to become the third Bush to make a run for the White House.

“I’m going to stop voicing my opinion and sticking up for things I think are right — except my boy,” she said about Jeb. "I think he's brilliant."

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