Barbara Bush was no stranger to Iowa, as befits a state with an outsized role in the presidential sweepstakes.
She campaigned here with her husband and for her son, both of them destined to be president. She also visited Cedar Rapids and Dubuque in the late 1970s, campaigning for Republicans, and then in the 1980s when her husband was Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
But perhaps her most charming visit came on April 21, 1992, when, as first lady, she took part in the opening ceremonies for the new PMX plant in Cedar Rapids.
Her husband had met PMX Chairman Chan U Ryu during a visit to South Korea. Ryu also attended the Bushes’ 47th wedding anniversary party.
So when it was time to dedicate the $250 million state-of-the-art brass and copper mill — at the time, the largest Korean investment ever made in North America — Barbara Bush joined other dignitaries to wish the venture well.
She was the star, charming five students from College Community’s Prairie View Elementary as they planted a flowering crab tree at the mill. It was her wink at the kids that delighted them most, The Gazette reported.
She also autographed a copy of her biography from the school’s library. In return, Ryu presented her with a large wooden jewelry box carrying the PMX logo.
But Barbara Bush could show some political teeth, too.
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She showed up in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids right before the November 1992 election that saw her husband, the president, lose his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.
”I’m not going to stand here and tell you that everything is just perfect in our country right now,” she said. “Things are getting better ... (but) let’s take a closer look at George Bush’s America and Bill Clinton’s Arkansas.”
She was back in the fall of 1999 and right before the November 2000 election — at the Five Seasons Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cedar Rapids — campaigning for her son, George W. Bush, for president.
”One out of every eight Americans is governed by a Bush,” she told a Des Moines crowd on the same trip, a reference to son Jeb as governor of Florida and son George as governor of Texas. “With your help, we’ll make that all Americans.”
Late Tuesday night Iowa politicians shared their condolences.
“Today, we lost an American icon,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a written statement. “First Lady Barbara Bush deeply touched our lives through her humor, wit and grace. She loved our country almost as much as she loved her family. May the Bush family find strength in her memory as we keep them in our prayers.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley and his wife Barbara Grassley released a joint statement that said Bush “was everything a country could ask for in a First Lady.”
“Over the years, we’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Mrs. Bush, first in Iowa campaigning for her husband, then as Second Lady, and then as First Lady, but always as a friend,” the statement read. “In private, Barbara was the same strong, kind, funny and loving woman the nation knew her to be. We will miss her greatly. The entire Bush family is in our thoughts and prayers.”