Texas’ own former first lady, Laura Bush, entertained and inspired attendees of the 12th annual Galveston Women’s Conference on Thursday, cracking jokes about life with her husband George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, and emphasizing the importance of reading and education in a democracy.
On returning to Texas after eight years in the White House, Bush said she and the former president are living what she calls the afterlife in a state George W. Bush calls the Promised Land.
Returning frequently to the cause she championed as first lady, literacy, Bush said she was delighted upon arriving at the Moody Gardens Convention Center to see the Galveston Independent School District’s book bus and to be there in support of the district’s Educational Foundation and Galveston’s SMART Family Literacy program.
Regarding her family, Bush spoke about the deaths over the past year of both her mother-in-law and father-in-law, former President George H.W. and first lady Barbara Bush, saying the elder Bushes taught her and her husband how to age gracefully.
From her mother-in-law, Bush said she learned that all we have is now and to walk on the beach every time you have a chance, sharing a story of Barbara Bush’s determination to continue enjoying life in her last years.
Laura Bush framed her speech with an incident she experienced as a teacher in Houston, rewarding her class one day with a trip to Astroworld, the theme park formerly across from the Astrodome.
One little boy from her class didn’t get to join the others and left her with the haunting image of him standing alone in the front door of his rundown house, denied opportunity. That image has remained with her throughout her adult life, always reminding her of the importance for all children to have the opportunity to learn and be safe and happy.
Bush has turned her attention since returning to Texas to the work of the Bush Institute, housed in the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum complex in Dallas. In particular, she talked about her women’s initiative, WE Lead, a program designed to equip women from the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan to become effective leaders.
She reflected on the aspects of a strong democracy that are in place for all Americans, including education and literacy, recognizing that those tools are essential to emerging democracies.
Bush celebrated being a grandparent, saying her husband has said being one is about the only thing around that’s not overrated.
After her speech, in conversation onstage with Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gina Spagnola, Laura Bush discussed her support of the nation’s national parks system and her Texan By Nature initiative, supporting conservation and preservation of Texas’s natural resources, following in the footsteps of Lady Bird Johnson.
She invited all present to visit the presidential library to see the grounds, a Texas native park planted with prairie grasses and wildflowers.