THE MATRIARCH by Susan Page

“At the time of her death she had been largely out of the public eye for a quarter century. What caused her, the wife of a one term president, to be not only heralded as a great first lady but loved?” son, George W. Bush

No matter your political leanings, Barbara Bush seems to have a universal appeal. She is tough and loyal and oh-so relatable.

I must admit I’ve harbored some envy for our 41st First Lady. She’s feisty and strong-willed and it seemed everyone around her admired her for it. As a member of the not-overly-sweet club of women in the world, it seems I prickle those around me more than arouse admiration. How does she do it?, I’ve often wondered. How does one fully embrace the life of familial matriarch while simultaneously speaking her truth, maintaining worldwide appeal?

Journalist and biographer, Susan Page, captured many of the things we adore about Bar (as she was nicknamed.) But the lovely first lady, with the ever-present string of pearls, held nothing back during Page’s interviews with her toward the end of her 92-year life.

Her relationship with Nancy Reagan has been a well-known feud. Backstabbing and public slights – the tawdry things reminiscent of Reagan’s tv career more than political position. Barbara doesn’t mix words in describing their ongoing struggle until the bitter end.

Discussing Nancy was something I assumed would be a part of this biography. But an unexpected part of the book came toward the last half. The difficulties Laura Bush had in developing a relationship with her strongly opinionated mother-in-law. The way in which Barbara interfered (…made helpful suggestions…) with the raising of her many grandchildren. The rules she laid down for each grandchild staying at her house during those summers in Kennebunkport, Maine (ie: Breakfast is served between 5-8am. If you miss it, you make your own.)

Reading about these difficulties didn’t diminish my respect for Barbara Bush, but it did let me off the hook just a little. Strong-spirited women have unique obstacles in life. Sometime those hurdles are cleared elegantly and without distress. But more often than not, feelings are hurt, relationships are broken if not severed, and a wake of turmoil is left behind the words and actions. Barbara suffered these difficulties like anyone else. At times she swallowed her words for the greater good. But many times she let opinions loose and had to suffer the unwelcome consequences and apologies later in life.

In the end, this made her even more relatable to me. She was gregarious and funny. She was also flawed and awkward. Ultimately, her fierce heart for her family came first and foremost. She was a fighting mad mama bear when her husband or children were unfairly crossed.

This biography is a good overview of the life of a first lady straddling the sedate role her generation championed and the opinionated aspects of her basic personality. We all walk through that confusing jungle at times. It’s nice to know the woman with a hearty laugh and a self-deprecating humor, stumbled and angered sometimes, but always loved without reserve.

Five stars.
The Matriarch, by Susan Page