Pearls of Wisdom

Little Pieces of Advice (That Go a Long Way)


By Barbara Bush

Read by Susan Larkin

Read by Brian Troxell

Read by Allan Robertson

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In this “sage, valuable volume” (Publishers Weekly), First Lady Barbara Bush shares the best of her adviceto family, staff, and close friends.

First Lady Barbara Bush was famous for handing out advice. From friends and family to heads of state and Supreme Court justices, and certainly to her staff, her advice ranged from what to wear, what to say or not say, and how to live your life.

She especially loved visiting with students of all ages, from kindergartners to college graduates. When she turned 80, she owned up to all her advice-giving and explained it this way: After all, in 80 years of living, I have survived 6 children, 17 grandchildren, 6 wars, a book by Kitty Kelly, two presidents, two governors, big Election Day wins and big Election Day losses, and 61 years of marriage to a husband who keeps jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. So, it’s just possible that along the way I’ve learned a thing or two.

At the end of the day, she taught all of us some valuable lessons. As First Lady, she made a point of cuddling a baby with AIDS and hugging a young man who was HIV positive and whose family had rejected him, showing us by example the importance of compassion and the myth of fear. As a mother, she made sure we all knew that your children must come first, and one of the most important things you can do is to read to them. As a friend and mentor, she showed that you had to be true to yourself, and even at the end of her life, she taught us how to die with grace.

Full of Barbara Bush’s trademark wit and thoughtfulness, Pearls of Wisdom is a poignant reflection on life, love, family, and the world by one of America’s most iconic — and beloved — public figures.


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Author’s Note

You might question how someone who left this good earth two years ago could be the author of a new book.

Simple, really. It was her words—taken from diary entries, letters, speeches, and the memories of the people who knew and loved her—that made this book possible. It is indeed written in her voice and in her spirit.

My role was to gather the information, put it all in one place, and serve as the narrator. It was a perfect fit, since her voice is still in my ear. I worked for Barbara Bush for twenty-nine years: four years in the White House as one of her deputy press secretaries, and then in a variety of roles from 1993 until she died. I was her book editor, speechwriter, and sometimes even an adviser. (She listened to my advice at least once or twice.)

During most of those twenty-nine years, from 1994 until he died on November 30, 2018, I was also President Bush’s chief of staff. Needless to say, Mrs. Bush was one of my mentors and main advisers. (I listened to her advice a lot.)

So to be her “ghostwriter” for this final book of hers was what you might call an easy lift.

There are certain things in the book of which she would not approve. “It’s too much about me, Jean.” We’ll ignore that one.

And it is occasionally repetitious. She hated repetition in speeches and essays. So I apologize to her and to you for that flaw. My excuse: Although our contributors occasionally talk about the same “pearl,” each story or example is unique or funny or dear enough, I thought you would want to see it. If nothing else, by the time you finish this book, you will get the points she was trying to make.


To help you navigate all the different voices in this book, we have used a variety of fonts:

  • Everything Mrs. Bush said is in bold.
  • Our guest contributors speak in regular font.
  • The narrator speaks in italics.

Before we begin, a few acknowledgments:

  • In addition to Mrs. Bush, this book would not have been possible without the contributions from friends and family. Your memories and stories brought Mrs. Bush back to life for all of us.
  • A special thanks to the staff of the George H. W. Bush Library, without whom no book about George and Barbara Bush could ever really be written. At least not an accurate book. Head archivist Debbie Wheeler and her team were, as always, stars.
  • Chase Untermeyer, who thankfully volunteered to read the galley proof.
  • This book would not exist without the support and encouragement of Sean Desmond at Twelve. A special thanks to him and his team.
  • And a thank-you to my two sisters, Millie Aulbur and JoAnn Heppermann, who read the early drafts and had great ideas and guidance. They hounded me about the repetition.

They also had one really good question for me, which I did not put in the book: What did I learn from Barbara Bush in thirty years?

Answer: Everything contained in these pages, but for me, choose happiness was her most important lesson.

I hope she knows helping her with this book—our third book project together—made me very happy.

Jean Becker


There are those who might say Mother was bossy.

Others might call her opinionated. I was certainly on the receiving end of many strongly worded pieces of advice. Fortunately, a few of them took. As I’ve always said, I inherited my daddy’s eyes and my mother’s mouth.

Simply put, Mom could be a bit of a “blurter.” And she had a wonderful sense of humor. In my last conversation with her on this earth, I called to tell her I loved her. “I love you too,” she responded, “and you’re my favorite son—on the phone.” It was classic Barbara Bush. With trademark delivery, Mom’s humor lightened the mood. She was quipping into the grave. And it put me at ease knowing that her soul was at ease.

Barbara Bush was much more than just a sharp tongue. Sure, she could be tough and intimidating. But as you’ll find out in this book, her honesty came from a heart for others.

For those of us who had the great privilege of knowing and loving Mother, to keep all her great advice to ourselves would be selfish. You could say it has given us a bit of a competitive advantage in life.

The purpose of this book is to share the advice and life lessons the friends and family of Barbara Bush have been keeping in their hearts. You will hear from her children and grandchildren, extended family members, friends and former staff, presidents and prime ministers, and a celebrity or two.

We all have at least one thing in common: We adored Barbara Bush, and we are better people for having listened to her.

George W. Bush
Oldest child of Barbara Bush
43rd president of the United States

Glossary of Contributors

The family and friends of Barbara Bush are the real authors of the first two chapters of this book, as they gladly shared their “pearls of wisdom.” Here are short bios of these “guest” authors. One last note: References to President Bush and to Mrs. Bush are, respectively, referencing George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Bush, unless otherwise noted.

Chapter 1

Andrews, Elizabeth (Lizzie): Daughter of Neil and Maria Bush, she is in her last year of medical school at Texas A&M College of Medicine. She lives in Houston and is engaged to Robby.

Bush, Ashley: Ashley lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Julian, where they work as TV writers. They currently have a half-hour TV show in development with Ash Atalla (producer of The Office) set in East Texas. Ashley also directs documentaries, most recently winning an Audience Award at the Dallas International Film Festival for The Queen’s New Clothes.

Bush, Barbara, Sr.: First Lady of the United States from 1989 to 1993, she was born in Rye, New York, to Marvin and Pauline Pierce on June 8, 1925. She married George Herbert Walker Bush on January 6, 1945. They had six children—George W., Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Doro. Robin died of leukemia at age three in 1953. Besides her family and friends, her main passion in life was making America more literate. She founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy in 1989. She wrote four books: C. Fred’s Story; Millie’s Book; Barbara Bush: A Memoir; and Reflections: Life After the White House. She died on April 17, 2018, at her home in Houston, Texas, with her husband of seventy-three years holding her hand.

Bush, Barbara, Jr.: Daughter of George and Laura Bush, she is the co-founder and board chair of Global Health Corps, an organization that has mobilized, trained, and placed more than 1,000 young leaders to solve the world’s most pressing health challenges. From 2009 to 2018, she served as GHC’s CEO, scaling their operations across five countries and a multitude of disease areas. She and her twin sister, Jenna, co-authored the number one New York Times best seller Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life, in 2017; the children’s version was released in the fall of 2019. Barbara is currently enrolled at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, pursuing her master’s in public administration. She and her husband, Craig, live in Boston.

Bush, George Prescott: Son of Jeb and Columba Bush, he was elected land commissioner of Texas in 2014 and reelected to a second term in 2018. Prior to running for office, he was a public school teacher, a businessman, and served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as an officer in the US Naval Reserve. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Amanda, and two sons.

Bush, George W.: Oldest son of George and Barbara Bush, he was elected president of the United States in November 2000 and reelected in 2004. He served as governor of Texas from 1994 until stepping down to become president. Before entering politics, he was a businessman and co-managing partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Now an author and artist and an active participant at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, he is an avid mountain biker and golfer. He and his wife, Laura, live in Dallas and are the parents of two daughters and grandparents of three.

Bush, James: Son of President Bush’s oldest brother, Prescott, and Elizabeth Kauffman Bush, Jamie is founder and CEO of Bush & Company, which specializes in business and family succession planning as well as corporate benefits and retirement planning. They also help families with children with special needs figure out what resources may be available to them. He and his wife, Sue, live in Hingham, Massachusetts, and are the parents of two children and grandparents of four.

Bush, John Ellis, Sr. (Jeb): Second son of George and Barbara Bush, he was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. He is honorary chair of the George H. W. Bush Library’s board of trustees. Active in business and education reform and author of multiple books, he and his wife, Columba, live in Miami, the parents of three and grandparents of four.

Bush, John Ellis, Jr. (Jeb): Son of Columba and Jeb Bush, he works in venture capital and private equity. He contributes his time to a number of causes, including the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, KIPP, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. He and his wife, Sandra, live with their two daughters in Miami, Florida.

Bush, Josephine (Jody): Married to President Bush’s brother Jonathan; the couple splits their time between Maine, Florida, and New York. They are the parents of two sons and grandparents of nine.

Bush, Laura: First Lady of the United States from 2001 until 2009, and the First Lady of Texas from 1995 until 2000, she worked as a public school teacher and librarian before marrying her husband, George W. Bush, in 1977. For decades she has championed key issues in the fields of education, health care, and human rights and today chairs the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. The author of the best-selling memoir Spoken from the Heart, and co-author of the children’s book Our Great Big Backyard, she co-founded both the Texas Book Festival and the National Book Festival.

Bush, Margaret: Wife of Marvin Bush, Margaret is a stage actress and has been performing from Maine to Florida for more than twenty years. For eight years she has been a trustee of the Maine Medical Center, home of the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital. She also is a floral designer and was inspired to take up needlepoint by her mother-in-law a decade ago.

Bush, Marvin: The fourth son of George and Barbara Bush, Marvin is a managing partner of Winston Partners, an investment firm in Arlington, Virginia. Marvin serves on the board of the George & Barbara Bush Foundation and is a past board member of the George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation. He is currently on the board of the Virginia Athletic Foundation and is a past member of the board of managers of the University of Virginia Alumni Association and the board of trustees of the College Foundation of the University of Virginia. He and his wife, Margaret, live in Arlington, Virginia, and are the parents of a daughter and a son.

Bush, Neil: The third son of George and Barbara Bush, he is engaged in international business development with a focus on Asia. He is active in promoting Bush family charitable legacies, serving as chairman of the board of Points of Light; founder and chairman, with his wife, Maria, of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation; and on the boards of the Bush School of Government and Public Service, the George & Barbara Bush Foundation, and the George H. W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations. He and Maria live in Houston and are the parents of six and grandparents of two.

Bush, Noelle: The daughter of Jeb and Columba Bush, she lives in Orlando, Florida, where she is an operations assistant at the law firm Nelson Mullins. She loves yoga and the mountains.

Bush, Pierce George Mallon: Son of Neil and Sharon Bush, he is CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate agency in the country and the single largest one-to-one youth mentoring organization in the world. He lives in Houston with his wife, Sarahbeth, and their golden retriever, Winston Moose, an Instagram star.

Ellis, Robin Rand: Robin Ellis is married to Alexander (Hap) Ellis, whose mother is Nancy Bush Ellis, President Bush’s only sister. She and her husband live in Boston and Kennebunkport and have three sons and eight grandchildren. She feels blessed to have been a member of the Ellis-Bush family for more than forty-five years.

Field, Betsy Walker: A first cousin of President Bush, she is the daughter of Grace and Louis Walker, youngest brother of President Bush’s mother. She and her husband, John, raised their family in Barbara Bush’s hometown of Rye, New York. They now reside in Wilmington, Delaware, and are the parents of two sons and grandparents of three.

Hager, Jenna Bush: Daughter of George W. and Laura Bush, Jenna is co-host of Today with Hoda and Jenna, the fourth hour of NBC’s morning news program. She is the author of four books: Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope; with her mother, two children’s books: Read All About It! and Our Great Big Backyard; and with her twin sister, Barbara, Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life; the children’s version was released in the fall of 2019. Jenna and her husband, Henry, live in New York City with their three children.

Koch, Doro Bush: Youngest child of George and Barbara Bush, she is the co-founder of BB&R Wellness Consulting; the honorary chairman of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy; and a member of the board of the George & Barbara Bush Foundation. She is the author of My Father, My President. She and her husband, Bobby, live in Bethesda, Maryland, and have four children.

Koch, Gigi: Daughter of Doro and Bobby Koch, she lives in Washington, DC, where she works at a nonprofit called WEConnect International. She loves being outdoors and spending time with her family in Maine.

Koch, Robert: Son of Doro and Bobby Koch, he lives in Chatham, New Jersey, where he works as a sales consultant for Gallo Wine Sales of New Jersey. He is an avid Washington Redskins fan, and, with his brother Sam, is always first in line to enter the tailgate area for home games.

Lauren, Lauren Bush: Daughter of Neil and Sharon Bush, she is the founder and CEO of FEED, a social business with a mission to create good products that help feed the world. Over the last ten years, FEED has been able to provide more than 100 million meals to kids around the world. Lauren lives in New York City with her husband, David, and two sons.

LeBlond, Sam: Son of Doro Koch and Billy LeBlond, he is the regional director of safety and wellness at Reyes Holdings, LLC. He serves on the board of directors of the George & Barbara Bush Foundation and hosts the All the Best podcast, which promotes the legacy of his grandparents and service to others. He lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, Lee.

McCall, Louisa: A niece of President Bush, she is the daughter of Patty and William “Bucky” Bush, President Bush’s youngest brother. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and now lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, with her husband, Christian, and three children.

Pierce, Scott and Janice: Scott Pierce is Mrs. Bush’s youngest brother and only surviving sibling. When he retired, he was chairman and CEO of PAMCO, the Prudential Asset Management Company. He was chairman of the board of Manhattanville College for eight years. He and his wife, Janice, have been married for more than sixty-five years and split their time between Yarmouth, Maine, and Amelia Island, Florida. They have four children, ten grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Scott had a five-dollar bet with his sister on who would die first. His nephew Neil gave him the five dollars at Mrs. Bush’s funeral.

Sosa, Ellie LeBlond: Daughter of Doro Koch and Billy LeBlond, she lives in the Washington, DC, area with her husband, Nick, where she works in health and wellness. She is the author of George and Barbara Bush: A Great American Love Story.

Stapleton, Debbie Walker: A first cousin of President Bush, she is the daughter of Louis and Grace Walker. She served with her husband, Craig, overseas when he was ambassador to the Czech Republic and then France during the second Bush administration. Debbie serves on a variety of nonprofit boards and lives in Greenwich, Connecticut. She and Craig are the parents of two and grandparents of six. Debbie’s full name is Dorothy Bush Walker Stapleton, having been named for President Bush’s mother, Dorothy Walker Bush.

Chapter 2

Allen, Duane: Lead singer for the Oak Ridge Boys, he was a college student when he first campaigned for President Bush in the 1960s. The Oaks traveled with President Bush during all of his campaigns, and at his request, sang “Amazing Grace” at his funeral service in Houston. He and his wife, Norah Lee, live in Nashville, Tennessee, the parents of two children and grandparents of four.

Appleby, Jim: As a high schooler, Jim began working as a “yard lad”—President Bush’s job description—for the Bushes in Kennebunkport in 2001. He eventually became President Bush’s personal aide, serving from 2006 until 2012. Today Jim works for Shell in external relations. He and his wife, Lauri, live in Houston with their two children.

Baker, James A., III, and Susan: James Baker served as secretary of state from 1989 to 1992, and also was Ronald Reagan’s White House chief of staff and secretary of the Treasury. He is the only known person to lead five presidential campaigns for three different people. The author of numerous books and chairman of various boards and committees, he is an active participant in the James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy at Rice University. He and his wife, Susan—a longtime volunteer and advocate for the homeless—live in Houston. Between them, they have eight children, nineteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Bates, David: President Bush’s personal aide from 1978 until 1981. He served President Bush in a variety of roles during the vice presidency and presidency, including assistant to the president and secretary to the cabinet and deputy to the chief of staff. From 1994 to 2009, he was managing director and then senior adviser for Public Strategies, Inc., a strategic consulting firm. He now is CEO of his own consulting company. He and his wife, Ann, live in San Antonio, the parents of three and grandparents of two.

Beach, Becky Brady: Aide to Barbara Bush from 1978 to 1981. She lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, Charlie, where she is CEO of the Puppy Jake Foundation. They have two children and six grandchildren.

Benedi, Antonio: Worked in a variety of roles during President Bush’s vice presidency, including as an advance lead and events coordinator. Was deputy director of the Office of Appointments and Scheduling during the first Bush administration and continued to serve as an advance person after President Bush left the White House. He is a member of the board and past chairman of the Washington Regional Transplant Community. He and his wife, Maria, live in Springfield, Virginia, and are the parents of two sons and grandparents of one.

Blanton, Taylor: Worked as a volunteer in President George H. W. Bush’s first two campaigns—for the US Senate in 1964 and the House of Representatives in 1966. He is retired from the US State Department and runs an event business in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas with his wife, Martha.

Brock, Ann: Director of scheduling for First Lady Barbara Bush. Right after leaving the White House, she served as the assistant director of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation and director of the library’s dedication ceremonies. She now lives in Jackson, Mississippi, where she is a middle school art teacher at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.

Brunette, Neely: Aide to Mrs. Bush from 2017 until she died in April 2018. She now lives in New York City and is an executive assistant at Burch Creative Capital.

Buckley, Christopher: A best-selling author and political satirist, Christopher (or Christo, as President Bush called him) was Vice President George Bush’s speechwriter from 1981 until 1983. He and his wife, Katy, live in Stamford, Connecticut.

Card, Andrew: Served as White House chief of staff under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006. He was deputy White House chief of staff under the first President Bush before being named secretary of transportation in 1992. He got his start in politics serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1975 to 1983. His post–White House career has included serving as acting dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University before becoming president of Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire, resigning in 2016. He and his wife, Kathleene, live in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, and have three children and six grandchildren.

Cary, Mary Kate: A speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush, she continues to write speeches for corporate and political clients. She was the producer of 41on41, a CNN documentary about President Bush. She and her husband, Rob, live in Washington, DC, and are the parents of two daughters.

Cheney, Peter G.: He has served since 2002 as priest and chaplain of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, a summer chapel in Kennebunkport, Maine. He is the retired executive director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools. He and his wife, Kiki, split their time between Maine and Arizona.


On Sale
Mar 3, 2020
Hachette Audio

Barbara Bush

About the Author

Barbara Bush was First Lady from 1989 to 1993, wife to President George H.W. Bush and mother to President George W. Bush. She was a champion of literacy and established The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy in 1989. She wrote four books: C. Fred’s Story, Millie’s Book, Barbara Bush: A Memoir, and Reflections: Life After the White House.

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