A woman with compassion and courage Print
Thursday, Apr. 26, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

Sometimes we learn more about a person after he or she dies. That is the case for me of former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Although I knew about her as the wife of President George H.W. Bush and mother of President George W. Bush, I must admit that I didn’t know as much about her until after she died on April 17.

I learned that she took on a number of causes starting with her husband’s inauguration in 1989. These included homelessness, teenage pregnancy, children’s education, and AIDS.

Work with AIDS patients

It is her work with AIDS patients that especially showed her to be a woman of compassion and courage.

When she was First Lady, some people believed that you could get AIDS from touching someone who had the disease. Yet in 1989, Barbara Bush visited a Washington, D.C., hospice, where abandoned infants with the AIDS virus were being cared for.

A photo circulated by Paul Brandus from West Wing Reports shows Mrs. Bush holding a baby while a two-year-old child takes their photo with a toy camera. This picture can still be found on the internet, and it is a very touching photo.

Mrs. Bush treated these children just like she would have treated her own grandchildren and her own children before them, pointed out Craig Hlavaty in an article on

Princess Diana had done something similar at New York’s Harlem Hospital. Like Mrs. Bush, Princess  Diana strived to make sure that the public understood that AIDS wasn’t contracted through simple human gestures like hugs and handsakes, said Hlavaty.

And it wasn’t just children with AIDS whom she encountered. In her 1994 memoir, Mrs. Bush wrote, “I especially remember a young man who told us that he had been asked to leave his church studies when it was discovered he had AIDS. His parents had also disowned him, and he said he longed to be hugged again by his mother."

“A poor substitute, I hugged that darling young man and did it again in front of the cameras. But what he really needed was family.”

Message of compassion

Professor and historian Nancy Beck Young at the University of Houston told that what Mrs. Bush did was monumental in the AIDS fight.

“Her message to the American people, who in the early days of the AIDS epidemic were afraid to be near those who were sick, was that there was no risk to individuals who had such casual contact,” Young said.

“This message of compassion at a critical moment in the history of AIDS helped Americans to learn that AIDS was yet another disease to manage and not a death sentence. She brought needed publicity to the problems of those who suffered and helped humanize her husband’s presidency.”

As we celebrate her life, let us hope we can carry on her legacy of compassion and courage. May she rest in peace.