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The remarkable love story between George and Barbara Bush started at a dance when both were in high school. It ended nearly eight decades later, just like many of their days together as a couple, holding hands.
When the former first lady passed away last year, her husband of 73 years remained by her side, according to a family spokesman. But details of one of the last conversations between the pair are revealed in a new biography, “The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty.”
The couple sat in the den of their Houston home holding hands, according to author Susan Page.
“They gave each other permission — for her to die, for him to live,” Page wrote. “‘I’m not going to worry about you, Bar,’ George Bush told her. ‘I’m not going to worry about you, George,’ she told him.”
Then, they each had a drink: a bourbon for her, a vodka martini for him — their favorites.
Barbara Bush died two days later.
The former first lady, who had long struggled with congestive heart failure and pulmonary disease, was 92. Her husband died less than eight months later, at age 94, on Nov. 30, 2018.
Their 77-year union made them the longest-married couple in presidential history. The pair met in 1941 at a Christmas dance, where the future president was introduced by his nickname, Poppy. They became pen pals as each returned to school, Barbara to her South Carolina boarding school and George to Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.
George would go on to ask Barbara to his senior prom, where he kissed her on the cheek, “in front of the whole world,” she would remember.
“I floated into my room and kept the poor girl I was rooming with awake all night while I made her listen to how Poppy Bush was the greatest living human on the face of the earth,” Barbara Bush recalled in her biography.
The couple got married in 1945 in Rye, New York.
“I couldn’t breathe when I was in the room with him; that’s how I knew I was in love,” Bush told Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief and whom she gave access to decades worth of personal diaries.
At the time of their interview, the former first lady’s health was failing. She was dependent on oxygen and struggled with her congestive heart failure and chronic lung disease, but she maintained her famously wry sense of humor.
“Here I am, back to not breathing again,” she said.
Shortly before she died, she had written a brief post for the alumnae magazine of her alma mater, Smith College. (She had dropped out of the Massachusetts college in 1944 to get married, but the college awarded her an honorary degree decades later.)
The former first lady, in her usual blunt manner, declared, “I am still old and still in love with the man I married 72 years ago.”