DES MOINES — Former first lady Barbara Bush was every bit the “enforcer” her family lovingly called her, but she also was a woman with a great sense of humor and a big heart, according to an Iowan who worked for her for four years.
Becky Beach of Des Moines, who will be at Bush’s funeral in Texas on Saturday, was Bush’s personal assistant from 1978 to 1982 — years when Bush’s husband, George H.W. Bush, was running for president and then became President Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
“She was very funny, very witty, great sense of humor,” Beach said. “She worshipped her family, and they her.”
Barbara Bush died Tuesday at the age of 92. Her funeral is Saturday.
She is only the second woman in U.S. history to have a husband and a son become president. The other was Abigail Adams shortly after the nation’s founding.
Beach said she came to know the Bush family through her grandmother, Mary Louise Smith, who was co-chairwoman of the national Republican Party when George H.W. Bush was the chairman.
Beach volunteered for Bush’s presidential campaign in 1978 and later that year was hired as Barbara Bush’s personal aide. George H.W. Bush would lose the Republican nomination to Reagan but, after eight years as Reagan’s vice president, was elected president in 1988.
The Bush family lovingly called its matriarch “the enforcer,” and Beach said she could live up to the name.
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“If she was unhappy with you, she would give you the look,” Beach said. “But she was gracious and understanding. She’s just a wonderful person with a heart of gold. Absolutely a heart of gold.”
Beach said she last saw Barbara Bush at a luncheon a little more than a year ago, when the former first lady “was doing great.”
Beach said she cried when she learned of Bush’s death.
“I was very sad,” Beach said in a telephone interview. “She made the decision to not have any more medical treatment, and, true to herself, that’s what she wanted and that’s what she did. To me, that took a lot of courage for her to say I don’t want to go back to the hospital, enough is enough.”
Beach is one of the 1,500 people invited to Barbara Bush’s private funeral in Texas.
Beach said she’d learned that George H.W. Bush, who is 93 and has had health issues, greeted mourners Friday at the public viewing for his wife.
“That’s just extraordinary, just amazing,” Beach said. “That’s the kind of people they are. They want to thank people, show appreciation. They’re the most selfless, kind people I’ve ever met.”
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