The U.S. Institute of Peace is saddened by the death of former First Lady Barbara Bush, who served America and the global community as an exemplar of the diplomacy, honest dialogue and compassion that are central to building peace. During the administration of her husband, President George H.W. Bush, Barbara Bush lent her active support to USIP’s educational mission, notably among U.S. high school students.

In 1991, First Lady Barbara Bush and the first family’s dog, Millie, met with USIP’s president, Ambassador Samuel Lewis (center) and students who had participated in USIP’s annual National Peace Essay Contest.
In 1991, First Lady Barbara Bush and the first family’s dog, Millie, met with USIP’s president, Ambassador Samuel Lewis (center) and students who had participated in USIP’s annual National Peace Essay Contest.

“Barbara Bush was a model of dignity, strength and grace throughout her life and in her death,” said USIP’s president, Nancy Lindborg. “She won the love and respect of Americans and people around the world for her role as a no-nonsense partner and guide in her husband’s long career in public service; for her commitment to family and service; and for her dry, irreverent flashes of wit that won our hearts.”

A Common, Human Appeal

In a life deeply embedded in U.S. politics, Mrs. Bush remained a largely apolitical figure. She exuded a cultural and emotional appeal across partisan divides. Her wry, down-to-earth view of herself and the world emphasized her common humanity with, and respect for, other people.

Mrs. Bush became well known for her advocacy of domestic causes, including literacy and civil rights. After she and her husband lost a young daughter to leukemia, Mrs. Bush raised public awareness and funds to combat childhood cancer. “She acted from her personal experience, but without putting herself at the center of it,” said Kathleen Kuehnast, who directs USIP’s efforts to strengthen the roles of women in building peace. Mrs. Bush’s voluntarism for educational causes included raising funds for the United Negro College Fund.

An Exemplar of Diplomacy

What is less remembered by many Americans, and close to the values of USIP, is that Barbara Bush played significant parts in some of the most important American diplomatic and peacemaking challenges of her lifetime.

As first lady, she took a role in defining U.S.-Soviet relations to help end the Cold War. An iconic moment was her 1990 joint appearance with the Soviet first lady, Raisa Gorbachev, to deliver the commencement address at Wellesley College. In that shared act, the two broke traditional molds for women leaders in the world’s superpower nations. They jointly made clear that our only future is in dialogue and building relationships. The event was a powerful, emotional moment as Bush and Gorbachev evoked standing ovations and admiring global news coverage.

Barbara Bush’s 1990 partnership with Raisa Gorbachev “is an illustration of her role as one of the most widely respected women of her time, as well as her willingness to take a stand to make a difference,” said Kuehnast.

Two decades before that, Barbara Bush was unheralded, but important, in pioneering America’s diplomacy with the People’s Republic of China. Only two years after President Richard Nixon visited China to unfreeze the countries’ relations in 1972, President Gerald Ford sent George Bush, with Barbara Bush, to head the U.S. Liaison Office that would become the U.S. Embassy.

The Bushes had to establish the American diplomatic presence without a roadmap—introducing America to the Chinese officials and citizens through their own travel, engagement and personas. They studied the Chinese language, bought a pair of Chinese bicycles and pedaled around Beijing.

As in other areas of Barbara Bush’s life, she served her missions of diplomacy and building peace without fanfare but to enormous good effect.

Related News

Correcting a Media Error: USIP Makes No Prediction on Nigerian Election

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

News Type: Announcement

A few Nigerian newspapers reported erroneously this week that the U.S. Institute of Peace has made a prediction about the possible outcome of Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election. USIP never makes predictions about election outcomes and has not done so in this case. The Institute’s work on elections is confined to helping nations avoid electoral violence.

Electoral Violence

Nobel Prize Strengthens the Protection of Women Amid War

Nobel Prize Strengthens the Protection of Women Amid War

Friday, October 5, 2018

News Type: Announcement

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded today to Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege honors their work on behalf of women victimized amid violent conflict and will strengthen that effort worldwide. Murad, from Iraq’s Yazidi minority, survived abduction, abuse and rape by extremists of the Islamic State group and has campaigned internationally on behalf of victims of war. Mukwege, a physician from the Democratic Republic of Congo has treated thousands of victims of sexual violence amid the brutal warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gender

In Memoriam: John McCain

In Memoriam: John McCain

Monday, August 27, 2018

News Type: Announcement

The U.S. Institute of Peace mourns the loss of Senator John McCain, a military veteran who personally bore the costs of war and used his experience to seek reconciliation with former foes. Senator McCain was admired across the United States and abroad for his candor and his example in prioritizing national and human values over partisan politics.

In Memoriam: Ambassador Princeton Lyman

In Memoriam: Ambassador Princeton Lyman

Monday, August 27, 2018

News Type: Announcement

It is with the deepest sadness that the U.S. Institute of Peace mourns the passing of our revered and distinguished colleague Ambassador Princeton Lyman, the Institute’s advisor emeritus. Princeton passed away quietly in his home on the morning of August 24, surrounded by his family.

In Memoriam: Kofi Annan

In Memoriam: Kofi Annan

Monday, August 20, 2018

News Type: Announcement

The U.S. Institute of Peace mourns the loss of Kofi Annan, who served as the United Nations’ secretary general during a turbulent decade and was awarded the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for his career-long effort to strengthen the United Nations’ role. “We have lost a great soul and a relentless champion for peace, human rights and human dignity,” said USIP President Nancy Lindborg. “Thank you for your life of service and for inspiring so many to do the same.”

View All News