Houston: The Locals
George H. W. and Barbara Bush
Most folks think of George H. W. and Barbara Bush’s Texas lives as based in Midland, but in truth it is Houston that has long been their actual as well as spiritual home. “Through all the storms of political life, no matter what happened, Houston was always where they returned,” says Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author who is at work on a biography of the forty-first president.
“It was often suggested that we would go back east,” says Barbara Bush. “No way! We were sent to Washington, China, the UN.” At the end of each stint, she adds, they were invariably lured back by the city’s energy and the “big hearts” of its citizens: “George always felt like the future was in Houston.”
The Bushes arrived in 1959, and George Bush began his political career in Houston, first as chairman of the Harris County Republican Party and later as the first Republican to represent Houston in Congress. After his 1992 presidential defeat, the couple built a townhouse in the Tanglewood neighborhood. They’ve since more than embodied Houston’s much-vaunted spirit of giving back. In 2004, Bush’s weekend-long eightieth birthday celebration, attended by the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev, John Major, and Nolan Ryan, raised a whopping $58 million for his three favorite charities: the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Points of Light Foundation, and the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation. The George and Barbara Bush Endowment for Innovative Cancer Research at MD Anderson has raised more than $50 million since its founding in 1998; at the celebration officials thanked the Bushes by unveiling the Robin Bush Child and Adolescent Clinic, named for the couple’s daughter who died from leukemia at age three.
Each April since 1995, one of the most popular events on the Houston social calendar has been A Celebration of Reading. The festive evening, for which members of the extended clan always gather, features readings by best-selling authors and raises millions annually for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.