HOUSTON (AP) — Former President George
H.W. Bush surprisingly greeted some of the
hundreds of mourners filing through a large
Houston church on Friday as they paid final
respects to his wife of 73 years, former
first lady Barbara Bush.
A spray of dozens of pink and yellow
roses covered her closed, light-colored
metallic casket in the sanctuary of St.
Martin’s Episcopal Church. The 93-year-old
former president sat in a wheelchair just a
few feet from the casket, smiling as people
shook his outstretched hand and offered
Barbara Bush died Tuesday at age 92 at
the couple’s Houston home, where her husband
also was by her side. Many women attending
the daylong viewing wore blue, Barbara
Bush’s favorite color, and pearls, a nod to
her go-to neckwear jewelry.
The nation’s 41st president hadn’t been
scheduled to attend but decided to go after
watching video from the church, where about
1,600 people had passed through in the first
hour. He stayed for about 15 minutes.
“I think he was very touched by all of
the people who were taking the time out of
their lives,” family spokesman Jim McGrath
Visitors went through security checks
before boarding shuttle buses to travel a
few miles to the nation’s largest Episcopal
church. Lucy Orlando was among more than 100
people in line well before bus service
began, after traveling from Florida.
Originally from Haiti, the 74-year-old said
had admired Barbara Bush for years,
including for her work promoting literacy .
“She was a very sweet lady and she loves
people,” said Orlando, who was carrying a
gray suitcase containing framed photos of
the couple and members of their family,
including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and
former President George W. Bush and his
Varney Johnson, a 49-year-old local
social worker originally from Liberia, said
he also came to honor the former first
lady’s work in supporting literacy efforts,
saying: “This woman dedicated her life to
Jessica Queener, who works in special
education and wears a cochlear implant to
help with hearing loss, said Barbara Bush’s
work in education and helping people with
disabilities “really resonates with me on a
personal level but also professionally.”
Queener was in Houston from Washington,
D.C., with her husband for work, and they
decided to attend events honoring the former
first lady, who Queener also credits for
being a positive influence on her husband
when he signed the Americans with
Disabilities Act in 1990.
“I believe that Barbara Bush is a mother
and a grandmother to every American,” added
Jamie Sumicek, 52, of Houston. “Whether
you’re Democrat or whether you’re
Republican, whether you’re young or old, she
is the matriarch of America. That’s what
moved me to visit.”
A hearse containing the former first
lady’s casket arrived before daybreak at the
church. Her body was to be in repose until
midnight. Among the officials allowed in
earlier were the Senate’s majority whip,
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, and Housing and
Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
The invitation-only funeral will be held
Saturday behind her husband’s presidential
library at Texas A&M University, about 100
miles (161 kilometers) northwest of Houston.
The burial site is in a gated plot
surrounded by trees and near a creek where
the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Robin, who
died of leukemia in 1953, is buried.
In a statement released Friday, the
family said Barbara Bush had selected son
Jeb to deliver a eulogy along with her
longtime friend Susan Baker, wife of former
Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and
historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2015
biography of her husband.
Some 1,500 guests were expected to
attend, including first lady Melania Trump,
former President Bill Clinton and his wife,
Hillary, and former President Barack Obama
and his wife, Michelle.