Presidential historian Jon Meacham pays tribute to Barbara Bush

"She kept everything and everyone together," Meacham said.
11:04 | 04/21/18

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Transcript for Presidential historian Jon Meacham pays tribute to Barbara Bush
And now the first tribute. Will be delivered by John Meachem. Friend of the bush family biographer. Of President Bush. In writing a biography he said that mrs. bush allowed him to read her diaries going back to 1940. There you see. The former president. But book festival. On my way to give a talk about a book written. When a woman ran up to me. Which doesn't happen enough believe me. And she said well I've got cute. Tested well yes you know. Kinda hard to argue it she said I just admire you so much I just love your books you've meant a lot to me and really to my family. Would you wait right here want to go buy your new book and have you signed it. Message yes ma'am. And lasted there and let us confessed in disagrees yes the setting I was feeling kind of full of myself. When she came back. With John grisham's latest novel. It gets worse. That'd been on a Saturday in September and I was on my way to made to see the 41 president of the United States and mrs. bush. And I was feeling rather sorry for myself. And I told this story. And mrs. bush looked across the table. Looked me in the guy and I was thinking here comes some motherly sympathy. I. It's called telegraph and here it comes in she said. Well how do you think poor John Grisham would be he'll you know they. He's a very handsome my hand. So I was. Move forward to. But it was a fair and funny points. As were so many of the points that Barbara Pierce Bush made and her long and consequential life. Known as Barbara as far as mom is mother as gay Annie get as the silver fox. And as the enforcer. She was candid and comforting. Steadfast. And straightforward. Honest and loving. Barbara Bush was the first lady of the greatest generation. As the fiance and and the wife of a World War II naval aviator. She waited and prayed in the watches of the night. During the war she worked at a nuts and bolts factory in Port Chester New York. And she joined. George H. W. Bush. In the great adventure of post war Texas. Moving to distance Odessa. In 194870. Summers ago. From ride mrs. Bush's mother would send boxes of soap and detergent. Your daughter on the grounds that they probably didn't have that kind of thing in west Texas. Mrs. bush praised the friendly. Endured the loss of a daughter to leukemia. And kept everything and everyone. Together. And as the wife of one president and the mother of another. She holds a distinction that belongs to only one other American. In the long history of the republic. Abigail Adams. Who was present at the creation. From the White House to Camp David to Walker's point. In hours of war and peace but to Moulton of wrong. The bush is governed in a sphere of congeniality. Of civility. And grace. Instinctively. Generous. Barbara and George Bush put country above party. The common good above political gain. And service to others. About the settling. Of scores. The couple at met and it Christmas dancing Greenwich in 1941. Not quite three weeks after Pearl Harbor. She was wearing a red and green holiday dress. Key. Endeavor to get introduced. She was sixteen. He was seventeen. He was the only boy she ever cast. Her children she remarked. Always wanted to throw up when they heard that. In a letter to Barbour during the war. George H. W. Bush wrote. I love you precious with all my heart. And to know that you love me. Means my life. How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours someday. How lucky our children will be. To have a mother like you. And if you ask them they'll be the first to say. They were. I once asked President Bush if he had known even in the beginning. How resilient. Mrs. bush would be. No but he said. Tears coming dues eyes. And he went on top. She's the rock band the leader of the fan. I cannot float above it all. But she's always there always there for me in for the kids. Just amazing. Debutante from rot. Willing to make our own way have adventures. Was and always eat before but never a word of complaint. Just love now and strength. Opinions too of course lots of those. She was strength itself. An effort tong were sometimes sharp he was as honest with herself as she was with all of us. When she wants unwisely describe a female political opponent of her husband's. As a word that rhymes with rich. She reported that her family had begun calling her the poet laureate. And she loved the story. A foul when her eldest son the 43 president of the United States took up painting. His instructor asked him if he'd ever use the color. Number. No 43 replied. But he did remember that from his mother's cooking. Brings down the house she would say approvingly. Mother and son needle each other to the end. In her final days while the 43 president was visiting. Mrs. bush ask whatever doctors. If she'd like to know why George W it turned out the way had. And then she announced. I smoked and drank while I was pregnant. She was a point of light. In 1989. When many Americans lived in ignorance about HIV aids mrs. bush went to a home for infected infants. And hugged the children there as well as an adult male patient. The images sent a powerful message. One of compassion. Of law. And an acceptance. She believes literacy a fundamental civil and human right and gave them calls for all. At a televised event commemorating the bicentennial of the Ponce. Tooth and mrs. bush met a man that named JT pace. The 63 year old son of a former sharecropper. Mr. pace. Who had only recently. Become literate. Was scheduled to read the constitution's preamble allow. Backstage. He was nervous. Mrs. bush asked if it would help. If they read it together. On the broadcast. Mr. pace agree. Soon the two of them stood on stage. Reading in unison. As mr. pace group comfortable. Mrs. bush. Low order voice. And lowered it again. And then again. Until at last JT pace. Was reading entirely. On his own. He wept. And he read. Supported by Barbara Bush. Who stood to his side. Now silent. Her work was done. When he is voice spoke. Of the unending search. For a more perfect union. JT pace. Had found his voice. Not least because Barbara Bush. Had lent him. Her heart. Just last summer but on a sunny day on the Bush's porch in Maine. Talk turned to world war two. And that terrible Saturday September 2 1944. When lieutenant junior grade George Herbert Walker Bush was shot down on a bombing raid over Chichi jima. To his crew mates didn't make it becoming casualties of war. Lieutenant bush parachuted out of the bomber. Plunged into the sea. Came up to the surface. Flopped onto a life raft and waited scared and wrenching. Had young bush been captured by the Japanese. He would have been held captive on an island that was home to horrific war crimes. Including cannibalism. Bar he'd say in later years. I could have been in order. In truth it had been the closest of calls. George mrs. bush said in Maine last July. In their great old age. Lost in reminiscence. You must have been saved for reason. I know there had to be a reason. President Bush sat silently. For the briefest of moments. In raise that big left hand. And pointed his finger across the table. At his wife. You. He said porcelain. You. Were the reason.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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