Late in his life, George H.W. Shrub pondered simply who he would want to see very first in heaven.

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The nation"s 41st president take it the concern posed by granddaughter Jenna shrub Hager in an interview for NBC’s "Today" seriously, transforming it end in his mind. If Barbara Bush, his mam of 7 decades, died prior to he did, that would want to begin with her, that decided. And also the mom he adored, Dorothy walker Bush.

And Robin.

He had actually a snapshot in his mind’s eye of just how he hoped his daughter would appear to him – as the chubby, vivacious 3-year-old she had been before she was diagnosed with leukemia in 1953. Until that day, he had actually never heard of the condition that would kill her 6 months later.

The illness and death of Pauline Robinson shrub would be threaded with the life of her father and also her mother. The suffer taught lock a destructive lesson around the means the innocent can be caught and crushed by life"s unfairness. It left a stamp around what matters, and what doesn’t. It fueled George Bush"s determination to do something huge in life, beyond the oil company he was structure in Texas. After the became president decades later, it assisted shape his plans toward the epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

Robin’s disease tested her parents’ marriage, then strengthened it. 

The young couple’s solution to the crisis forged a theme they adhered to through the ebbs and also flows of their lengthy union, at 73 year the longest of any president and an initial lady in U.S. History. 

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One rule: No crying

When Robin to be being treated at new York"s Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital, Barbara Bush set one rule: No crying in she room. Her mommy didn’t desire the small girl unsettled by seeing the adult in she life in tears. 

George Bush, a guy of open emotion, found it practically impossible to comply. Again and also again, that told Robin he had to go to the bathroom, then stepped into the hallway to restore his composure.

“We offered to laugh and also wonder if Robin assumed he had the weakest bladder in the world,” Barbara shrub said later. “Not true. He just had actually the many tender heart.”


George shrub knew how tough it to be on Barbara to be the stoic, to be the one in control. Years later, he composed a revealing next in a letter come a ingredient in his congressional district who had been diagnosed through cancer. “Someone had to look into Robin’s eyes and also give she comfort and love,” that said, “and somehow, Paul, i didn’t have actually the guts.”

When Robin died, Barbara was the one who fell down into sorrow, and also George bush was the one who took charge. “Time after ~ time during the following six months,” she said, “George would put me together again.”

The pattern of one stepping up once the other was struggling – and of being able to move those roles in between them – sustained the pair during times of political loss and an individual pain from climate on.

That was the defining experience Barbara bush chose come talk around at the Republican national Convention in 1988, a moment of political triumph as her husband was nominated for president. She noted in passing her husband’s exceptional résumé, the stints in Congress and at the unified Nations and the CIA and also the vice presidency. Climate she turned come their an individual tragedy.

“The hardest thing we ever confronted together to be the loss of a child,” she said, she voice thickening together she functioned to store her emotions in check. “I to be very strong over the months we were trying to save her – at least, I thought I was. Possibly I was just pretending. Yet when she was gone, I dropped apart. But George i will not ~ let me retreat right into my grief. He held me in his arms, and also he do me re-publishing it and also accept the his sorrow to be as great as my own."

The stigma the disease

During her treatment in brand-new York, Robin was permitted to go house to Midland, Texas, because that one critical visit. Even some family members friends were afraid come visit, worried that the then-mysterious disease might it is in catching.

“When Robin acquired sick, civilization avoided us favor the plague,” Barbara shrub said in an interview last year through this writer because that a biography. Her voice was marked more by sorrow 보다 anger, every these years later. “Even mine close friends.”

When Bush became president, HIV/AIDS faced a stigma that its own, one laced through discriminatory mindsets toward homosexuality. The Reagan White House had done little to attend to the arising crisis.

Bush delivered a decided on AIDS in in march 1990, his an initial major attempt to deal with the subject. He called for the national Institutes that Health and the Centers for condition Control to go “on a wartime footing” come combat the disease.

“When our own daughter to be dying that leukemia, we asked the physician the same inquiry every HIV family members must asking – why, why this to be happening to our beautiful tiny girl?” shrub said in the speech. He had seen friends die of AIDS, the went on. “There is only one method to address an individual that is sick: through dignity, compassion, care, confidentiality, and also without discrimination.”

It to be the just time throughout his presidency that shrub mentioned Robin by name in his windy remarks. In the privacy the his diaries, he sometimes listed her birthdays. In affectionate letter to his wife, he recurring a phrase that Robin coined: “I love you an ext than tongue can tell.”

On the day in October 1987 the he announced he would certainly run for president, the election that would cap his career, shrub was thinking about the daughter he had actually lost. “Bar look at beautiful,” he wrote in his diary, climate added, “Thirty-four years earlier today, Robin died.”

After a memorial company at the nationwide Cathedral in Washington and also a funeral in ~ St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, George shrub will be laid to rest in a wooded grove near his presidential library in college Station, Texas. He will certainly be buried Thursday beside the dig of Barbara Bush.

And beside Robin.

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Susan Page, USA TODAY’s Washington office chief, is the writer of "The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the making of one American Dynasty," which will be published in April 2019.