Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Funeral of Barbara Bush Commences; Friends and Family of Barbara Bush Share Memories of Former First Lady; Barbara Bush's Commencement Speech at Wellesley College Profiled. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired April 21, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: -- former first lady Barbara Bush.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're looking live at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where an extraordinary service will begin soon, the funeral for former first lady Barbara Bush.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. Welcome to CNN's live coverage. Former presidents and first ladies will be among the 1,500 guests representing political dynasties back to the Kennedys. President Trump is not attending. The White House says he didn't want to be a distraction. Those who knew Barbara Bush best will be paying tribute, including her son, Jeb, who will give a eulogy.
And I'll be talking to friends, former staff members, historians, all standing by to share their memories of this wonderful former first lady.
But first, our special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, has this look at the life of Barbara Bush.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Barbara and I just wanted to pop in here.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To most Americans, Barbara Bush was known for her trademark white hair and pearls. But to those who knew her best, her family, she was simply --
JEB BUSH, SON: The enforcer.
PIERCE BUSH, GRANDSON: The enforcer.
GANGEL: Your mom's nickname?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The enforcer.
GANGEL: A tough, but loving mother and grandmother with a wicked sense of humor.
BARBARA BUSH, FORMER U.S. FIRST LADY: She wears a size two, and my leg is a size two or something.
GANGEL: And a strict rule book.
JEB BUSH: If you violated them, she would enforce the rules, and do it in a way that was pretty effective.
JEB BUSH JR., GRANDSON: For example, if we left clothes on the floor in our room or didn't hang up a wet bathing suit, grandmother would be very direct, and you would hear it sometimes from the other side of the house or even outside for us to get our butt back inside and clean up quickly.
GANGEL: It didn't matter who you were.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: She was the sergeant.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: And he was reading his paper, and Barbara looked over at his him. George, take your feet off my table! I said the guy is president of the United States of America. Give him a break. No, he knows better than that.
GANGEL: Your mom didn't hold her tongue?
GEORGE W. BUSH: No, not at all. Mother was on the front line and expressed herself frequently. Mother was there to maintain order and discipline.
BARBARA BUSH: I am the enforcer, there's no question about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got angry at your husband, didn't you?
BARBARA BUSH: Always.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: Still does.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're feistier than him.
BARBARA BUSH: True.
GANGEL: When it came to her husband, former president George H. W. Bush, she was loving.
BARBARA BUSH: He was superman. Still is.
GANGEL: And devoted.
BARBARA BUSH: You can criticize me, but don't criticize my husband, or you're dead.
JON MEACHAM HISTORIAN: Always fiercely protective of her husband, but in a way that avoided the pitfalls of some other first ladies who have seemed overly intrusive.
GANGEL: His not-so-secret secret weapon.
MEACHAM: She had a foot with the family and a foot in his career. This idea that she was not politically involved is not true. She was there.
JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE AND FAMILY FRIEND: Barbara was someone who could tell George what she thought. And she would. Just like she could tell everybody what she thought. And she would.
GEORGE P. BUSH, GRANDSON: I'm not sure that my grandfather would have obtained nearly as many accolades as he did but for my grandmother.
GANGEL: Critical political partner?
MEACHAM: An essential political partner.
GANGEL: Together for more than 70 years, the Bushs were the longest married couple in presidential history, a love story documented in hundreds of letters between the two.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: 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 then later in the letter, Good night, my beautiful. Every time I say beautiful, you about kill me, but you'll have to accept it.
GANGEL: The public also loved Barbara Bush, making her one of the most popular first ladies in recent history, even though she didn't see it that way.
LARRY KING: Why don't you like the word popular?
BARBARA BUSH: Well, because I don't think it's true. And I don't know how to cope with it. And I just don't like it. I don't want you to stand up and say here comes the least popular woman either.
KING: That's right.
BARBARA BUSH: It just makes me very uncomfortable.
GANGEL: But she used her platform to improve literacy, raising awareness and hundreds of millions of dollars to benefit the cause.
BARBARA BUSH: If more people could read and write and comprehend, crime, everything would be better.
GANGEL: Occasionally, there was some controversy. In 1990, when Mrs. Bush was asked to speak at Wellesley's commencement ceremony, students protested claiming she wasn't feminist enough. She responded with a speech that brought everyone to their feet.
[10:05:05] BARBARA BUSH: Who knows, somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president's spouse, and I wish him well.
GANGEL: That political savviness made her a force on the campaign trail well into her 90s. During the 2016 presidential primaries, Mrs. Bush gave one of her last television interviews to CNN while stumping for her son, Jeb.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you really think of Donald Trump?
BARBARA BUSH: I do not -- I don't even think about him. I'm sick of him.
GANGEL: Classic Barbara Bush, with a no-nonsense candor that sometimes made headlines. This was her response to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's 2012 presidential hopes.
BARBARA BUSH: I think she's very happy in Alaska and I hope she'll stay there.
GANGEL: And she made news again when asked about her own son, Jeb, running for the White House two years before he did.
BARBARA BUSH: He is, by far, the best qualified man. But, no, there are other people out there that are very qualified. And we've had enough Bushes.
GANGEL: She also broke the news to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that he had the job before her husband officially picked him.
JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I greeted her, and she said congratulations. And that's when I knew. And she said, oh, I guess I let the cat out of the bag.
GANGEL: A few years later, after her husband's loss to Bill Clinton, comedian Dana Carvey performed at the White House.
DANA CARVEY, COMEDIAN AND FAMILY FRIEND: We walked into their bedroom. And there's a big wall of televisions. And on one TV was a close-up of Bill Clinton, the new president. Another TV there was a picture of Ross Perot. So they're side by side. And she just walks in, looks over, sees the two of them, and goes, I can't figure out which clown to look at.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I imagine it took her a lot longer to forgive me than it did him. And maybe she never has.
BARBARA BUSH: It took me a little while, I confess.
GANGEL: But eventually, she came around, and Bill Clinton went from political foe to unofficial family member.
BARBARA BUSH: I love Bill Clinton. Maybe not his politics, but I love Bill Clinton.
BILL CLINTON: I would walk across coals for her. I think she's immensely impressive.
GANGEL: A sentiment being echoed by her family.
NEIL BUSH, SON: She is so smart, so sharp, so aware. She's witty. She's wise. She's kind of got that fierce mama bear type instinct. She'll defend and support any son or daughter or family member that gets in any kind of trouble. She's been a passionate advocate for literacy. So my mom is amazing.
PIERCE BUSH: I think the reasons that my cousins and I have kind of turned out to be productive citizens -- and I've never taken the fact that we were grandkids of the president for granted -- is because of Barbara Bush.
GANGEL: Children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren all part of the life and legacy of Barbara Pierce Bush.
BARBARA BUSH: The one request I have is that they stay loving siblings, and so far, so good. And I'll be looking down, so behave yourself.
BLITZER: Let's bring in our special correspondent Jamie Gangel. She's joining us on the phone. Jamie, you're already inside St. Martin's Church in Houston for the funeral. We know that President Bush spent yesterday greeting people at the viewing. What was it like for him?
GANGEL: It really was a remarkable sight, Wolf. The fact of the matter is that no one expected him to go. And he was watching the people coming to pay their respects on the video feed and he said, I want to go down there and greet them. And it's classic George Bush. Even at this most difficult time, being gracious. And he stayed much longer than anyone expected. He was there with his daughter, Doro. So I think it's obviously very emotional. But today is going to be a day of tribute to Barbara Bush.
BLITZER: It certainly will be, and she deserves it. Women attending today, by the way, they're honoring her with their wardrobe. What are they wearing, Jamie?
GANGEL: So I'm looking around right now and I was on the bus with a lot of friends and family coming over here. I have never seen so many blue dresses, which was her favorite color, and almost every woman is wearing pearls, which, of course, were Barbara Bush's signature. We talk about people being authentic. Barbara Bush was the epitome of authentic except for one thing, those fake pearls that she was so proud of. And today every woman here, almost, is wearing them.
[10:10:06] BLITZER: Interesting. A lovely gesture. She is not a president, Jamie, but this funeral is almost on par with a state funeral. Describe the scale of this funeral.
GANGEL: No question. It is -- it feels like a state funeral. There are -- Houston, this part of town has, you see police wherever you are. There's tremendous security, an enormous turnout. St. Martin's is a very large church. There are 1,500 guests here. It's very formal, very traditional. And I think the other thing to remember is there are a lot of VIPs here. We're going to have the former president, we're having friends and family. But there are a lot of people when I came over, I was sitting next to a woman who came every Monday night for the last 40 years with Barbara Bush, and they did needlepoint together here for the kneelers at the church. So there are people from all walks of life coming to honor her.
BLITZER: As they should. Jamie, we're going to get back to you. Thank you very much.
President Bush shares the joke his mother told him just days before her death that had the whole family laughing. That, and much more, as our special coverage continues.
[10:15:43] BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush, well known for her sense of humor right up until her death.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Laura and I went over to see her a week ago Saturday, and we had a wonderful visit. She was strong, lucid.
LAURA BUSH, FORMER U.S. FIRST LADY: Funny, still.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Funny. She and I were needling each other. The doctor came in and she turned to the doctor and said do you want to know why George w. is the way he is? The doctor looked somewhat surprised. And she said because I drank and smoked when I was pregnant with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's discuss with CNN contributor Kate Anderson Brower who is with us, CNN presidential historian Timothy Naftali and Douglas Brinkley, and the former chief of staff for Barbara Bush, Kristan King Nevins. Kristan, a wonderful sense of humor, and it came through. You worked with her very, very closely, almost every day.
KRISTAN KING NEVINS, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO BARBARA BUSH: Yes. She had an incredible sense of humor. Often the family used that as a way to protect themselves from things going on in the outside world, things that people were saying about them. And it was a shield and it was an inner club that they used this wit and humor. And she was, in particular, the leader of that in being able to break down awkward or uncomfortable moments by laughing through those tears.
BLITZER: It came through very, very vividly all the time.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Absolutely. Franklin Roosevelt had a saying. He said some people are the masters of the science of personal human relationships. The Bushs are loved by everybody because they wrote thank you notes. They hugged people. They shared humor with everybody. I don't know one person who knew them that wasn't enamored with them. And their sense of hospitality was so large, both in Maine and in Texas, that this outpouring we're experiencing this week is very real. America loved Barbara Bush. And she truly was, perhaps, the most popular first lady of modern times.
BLITZER: It's going to come through, Kate, certainly on this important day.
KATE ANDERSON BROWER, AUTHOR, "FIRST WOMAN": Yes. To her sense of humor, when a reporter was on a foreign trip with her and they were going to Bahrain and said are you going to be buying pearls? And she said not as long as Kenneth Jay Lane is still alive, the costume designer who designed all of her fake pearls.
So she cared a lot about other families, too. When the Clintons moved in, she told Clinton it would be great if Chelsea had some cousins or friends living there with her to keep her company. I think that speaks to how she cared about other people, Democrats and Republicans. It wasn't about partisanship.
TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: We're going to talk about the reverent side. The one thing we ought to keep in mind, she was second lady of the United States. She was first lady of the United States, and she was the first mother of the United States. There's only one other person in our history, Abigail Adams, who did that, and she did it before the media era. Imagine for 50 years she has been a symbol of dignity and civility and support. There are a lot of reasons to be missing her today.
BLITZER: And she had deep, deep faith. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA BUSH: Huge believer in a loving God. I pray, George and I pray every night out loud, and sometimes we fight over whose turn it is, but we do. And I have no fear of death, which is a huge comfort, because we're getting darn close. And I don't have a fear of death for my precious George or for myself, because I know that there is a great God. And I'm not worried about that. I don't like it for young people, but I know we'll see Robin again, one way or another, and our families. So I have no fear of death. I have a great faith. That sounds so arrogant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
BARBARA BUSH: Well, I'm a big shot. I have a faith in God. I do have a faith in God. And I don't question it. I'm not as good as my children, but from your children, you learn.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[10:20:09] BLITZER: Kristan, Robin was her daughter who died at the age of three from leukemia. You spoke to her about Robin?
NEVINS: Yes. They still had a portrait in their house that was prominently displayed, and she said that she thought of Robin every single day. And at one point we were discussing depression and the struggle with depression, and she -- that was the one time that she really talked about losing Robin. And brought it up in terms of her being a mother and needing to still go on and mother her other two children, of course, George W. and Jeb. But that sense of loss, and I think that that was part of the reason why her faith was so strong was that she knew she was going to be reunited with Robin someday.
BLITZER: Look at this cartoon, Kate. We'll put it up on the screen. There you see Barbara Bush reuniting in heaven with Robin.
BROWER: It's really incredible. She was in her late 20s when Robin died of leukemia. And they did a lot of cancer fundraising in the years since, and now leukemia in many cases is treatable I think partially because of them. And the heartbreak that they went through, and President George H. W. Bush has talked about Robin being the first person he'll see when he goes to heaven. And if you go to their gravesite at Texas A & M you see Robin's grave next to their grave. So it's incredible she went through that. And you can't imagine ever having that experience leave you. So it stayed with her forever.
BLITZER: Let me play this clip of the family talking about Robin. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Mom was the rock of stability. She was by Robin's side the whole time. When Robin finally died, mother cratered, and dad became the rock.
BARBARA BUSH: We need a legitimate Christmas angel. We need someone who is afraid of frogs. We need someone to cry when I get mad, not argue. We need a girl.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe the death of my sister strengthened their marriage in ways that it's hard to fathom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NAFTALI: Robin was initially buried next to Prescott Bush, the grandfather, the president's father. And she was then moved to the library in college station. And Mrs. Bush will be laid to rest next to her today. I think that if you want to understand the Bush marriage, you have to look at how they handled the loss of Robin. In some cases, the loss of a child by a couple will push them apart. But in this case, it brought them together. And George W. writes about that in his book, 41. It's very moving.
BLITZER: It certainly is. And you have looked into this as well. You have to be emotionally moved by these stories.
BRINKLEY: There's no question about it. The Bushs were married in 1945 and George Bush saw a lot of death in World War II. To start this postwar, getting back to normal and having a little girl die at three from leukemia, it's been -- I think it made Barbara Bush realize that family is everything. And it also made her very interested in helping people that were sick. I teach at the Rice University in Houston, and Barbara Bush is
everywhere with M.D. Anderson, Heart Institute, Methodist hospital, constantly trying to be a healing agent. And when the big hurricane Harvey hit, she was with players from eastern Texas NFL team talking about how do we help people in despair. The death opened up her heart in a way that never closed.
BLITZER: Such a wonderful, wonderful woman, indeed.
Up next, we'll take a look at the lighter side of the former first lady Barbara Bush as CNN's special coverage of her funeral continues.
[10:28:35] BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's live coverage of the funeral of Barbara Bush. Her family is calling the service a celebration of her life, and that will certainly include tributes to her very well-known sense of humor. I want to share this clip from George H. W. Bush from the George H. W. Bush presidential library. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: That's not funny.
BARBARA BUSH: You got all the lines.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: Go. Keep going.
BARBARA BUSH: Bob doesn't --
BARBARA BUSH: It isn't funny at all. No. Stop it.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: OK. Wait a minute.
BARBARA BUSH: That's funny.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: All right, come on.
BARBARA BUSH: You have ruined my day.
DAVID LETTERMAN: No. In what sense?
BARBARA BUSH: I've been interviewed all day long and everybody says, you are going to be on David Letterman?
LETTERMAN: No, please.
BARBARA BUSH: They do. All day long. I have an inferiority complex.
LETTERMAN: I have a question for you. Let me apologize for that.
BARBARA BUSH: Roseanne Barr, stupid pet tricks, Madonna, and Barbara Bush?
LETTERMAN: Can Barbara Bush get a free hot dog from a New York City street vendor?
LETTERMAN: That's the beautiful Broadway theater.
[10:30:01] LETTERMAN: Let's see if first lady Barbara Bush -- she had no trouble at all! Yes!
LETTERMAN: Yes, sir!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Lots of memories there. You knew her wit personally, didn't you?
NAFTALI: Yes. I was going to say, when George Bush decided on his 85th birthday that he would jump out of a plane again and parachute down to St. Ann's Episcopal Church where they were married in Kennebunkport, she said, well, at least he is going to be near a cemetery. She had a terribly biting wit.
I only met her once, but she put me at ease. I was going to pet their dog, and she said he bites. He bites people who try to hug me. I said Mrs. Bush, I didn't ask your permission to hug you. She said well, if I don't like you, I'll give you permission. She made it very clear that this was a person who had a tremendous sense of humor. What's interesting is that she showed only a bit of it to the American people throughout her life.
BLITZER: Kristan, you worked with her on a day-to-day basis. There were a lot of inside jokes, I understand.
NEVINS: Yes, there were. They loved to tease each other. She and 41 were constantly laughing, and oftentimes it was an inside joke between the two of them. But one of my favorite memories was not long after she had a heart valve replacement surgery and they actually used a pig valve to -- that they put in Mrs. Bush, and for the next few weeks any time 41 would walk in the room or see her, he would start snorting or oinking at her to remind her she had this pig valve.
BLITZER: And that sense of humor, Kate, it helped them get through difficult times as well.
BROWER: It did. I talked to a lot of the White House staff who incidentally are there now, a lot of the butlers and the maids who were very close to the Bushs. And there were some great stories where she loved being first lady, and she would come down to the basement of the White House in the bathing suit with a robe, ready to go for a swim and check in on the cookie man. One time she left for a foreign trip and came back and the engineers were going to wash the dogs, and she came back early and there was a sign on the door that said "wash the darn dogs." It wasn't "darn." She said, these dogs are dirty, you're right, to the engineers. She was very lighthearted, had a great relationship with them. And being in the White House was very stressful, and I think that did provide a sense of levity.
BLITZER: And it was useful, that sense of humor, Doug. I'll show our viewers this little moment after the inauguration with NBC's Willard Scott. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. How about that? I've been kissed by the best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Nice moment on inauguration day.
BRINKLEY: A nice, spontaneous moment. I think the thing that people don't realize about George Bush and Barbara Bush is it was a comedy routine all the time. William Webster who is going to be at the funeral, former head of CIA, told me about -- I got permission to tell this story. The CIA created a body double for President Bush, looked exactly like him, in an experimental project. They said let's spring the fake president on Barbara Bush. So they went, put him in the Oval Office and had called Barbara to come in. And she didn't recognize that that wasn't her husband for a while. And then suddenly 41 and the gang came out from behind the curtains and all just doubled over with laughter because they were able to finally punk Barbara Bush, because she was usually the one doing the -- you know, the one at you.
BLITZER: How did that sense of humor shape her legacy?
BRINKLEY: Big. Everybody is talking about June 1, 1990, her Wellesley College speech. It's in the back of her memoir. It's a seminal moment. But people didn't want her coming there. But in the middle of that speech, the person everybody wanted was Alice Walker, the great novelist who wrote "The Color Purple." So here she is in her commencement saying I know you all didn't want me. You wanted Alice Walker, "The Color Purple." Instead you got the woman who is known for one thing, the color of her hair. So she made jokes about the clothes she'd wear and the jewelry and the way she wasn't Jackie Kennedy.
[10:35:00] BLITZER: Yes, and that came through to you as well?
NEVINS: Absolutely. She had a great way of using self-deprecating humor to disarm people. One time she was speaking to a group of plastic surgeons, and she was fearful that everybody in the room were going to rush the stage to get their hands on her. She told the Secret Service under no circumstances were any of the plastic surgeons allowed to touch her.
BLITZER: You had some memories of that sense of humor.
BROWER: Yes. It could be cutting, too, in a fun way. There was one reporter who told me that he had written a story in '92 about Bush's defeat, his reelection defeat. And he saw Barbara Bush and he had known them since the 1960s, a "Houston Chronicle" reporter. He said, can I take a picture with you? And she just looked at him and said not with you, bub, and then walked away because she was fiercely loyal. But she could also be funny and kind of lighthearted. And she treated everybody equally, which I think was incredible right down to the people who worked at the White House.
BLITZER: Coming up, Barbara Bush's most famous speech, how she turned protesters into admirers.
[10:40:45] BLITZER: You're viewing live pictures of St. Martin's episcopal church in Houston. We're covering the funeral of Barbara Bush. Over the years she gave countless speeches, including a very famous graduation speech at Wellesley College in 1990 where some students protested the appearance of a traditional wife and mother. But Barbara Bush quickly won them over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA BUSH, FORMER U.S. FIRST LADY: Now I know your first choice today was Alice Walker.
BARBARA BUSH: Guess how I know.
BARBARA BUSH: Known for "The Color Purple." Instead you got me, known for the color of my hair.
BARBARA BUSH: Whether you're talking about education, career, or service, you're talking about life. And life really must have joy. It's supposed to be fun. One of the reasons I made the most important decision of my life, to marry George Bush, is because he made me laugh. It's true, sometimes we laughed through our tears, but that shared laughter has been one of our strongest bonds.
Find the joy in life, because as Ferris Bueller said on his day off --
BARBARA BUSH: Life moves pretty fast and you don't stop and look around once in a while, you're going to miss it.
BARBARA BUSH: And I can tell George you clapped more for Ferris than you clapped for George.
BARBARA BUSH: At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.
Fathers and mothers, if you have children, they must come first. You must read to your children and you must hug your children and you must love your children. Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens inside your house.
Who knows? Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president's spouse. And I wish him well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was 1990, Wellesley College, all women's college. One of the great speeches, I've got to tell you. I remember vividly, and as I watch that clip it brought back so many memories.
BROWER: Yes, the disarming wit. And after that speech President Bush actually in tribute to his wife, he said remember the Wellesley commencement speech. Some students protested, saying that she's just a woman who followed her husband. And he said in many ways she actually followed me. In countless ways she followed me. So I think you look at her as a wife and mother born in the 1920s, different generation from those women at Wellesley who said she was only there because of the man she married. And I think she really fought back against that and was unapologetic about it.
NAFTALI: One of the favorite stories of the Bush family is that Prescott Bush, 41's father, at one point he was smoking and Barbara started to smoke. And her father-in-law said I didn't give you permission to smoke. And she turned to him, pretty formidable guy, former senator of the United States, and she said I didn't marry you.
BLITZER: Talk about how her views evolved over the years.
NAFTALI: I was very fortunate, thanks to Jon Meacham, I got to spend the day with the Bushs. This was not my intention, but she asked me some questions about -- she didn't understand why the Obama administration, why the Obama White House had announced a transgender American had been hired to the staff. And she and I before had talked about what she did for AIDS awareness in this country, and she said we don't talk about when we hire heterosexual people in the White House.
[10:45:03] And so I started to talk to her about the extent to which the T in LGBT had not been fully understood and the power of the White House and elevating people's understanding and encouraging comments. And she kept asking questions. She asked me about Caitlyn Jenner. She kept asking. And she said so, it's not a choice, is it? And it wasn't a question. I said no, we are just wired this way. And after my meeting she wrote a note to Jon Meacham and said our conversation changed the way she thought about transgender Americans and she now understood. This is at 90 years old that they are born this way, just as gays and lesbians are.
And, you know, she didn't have to -- you know, 90 years old, you're allowed to check out. You're allowed to say, look, I'm just too old. But she was constantly learning and changing. She said one more thing to me. I grew up in Rye, New York, she said. And in Rye, New York, there weren't any African-Americans, and in Rye, New York, people were prejudiced against Irish-Americans and against Jewish-Americans, and it's changed and it's good. She saw America change and she changed with it.
BLITZER: And she had an impact on America.
BRINKLEY: Yes. At that Wellesley College speech, let's back ourselves back to 1990. The Berlin Wall went down in '89. The Soviet Union hadn't broken up yet. So she invited Raisa Gorbachev, the son of the first lady of the Soviet Union to Wellesley to co-speak with her to disarm the protestors of the students. That was seen as a big Cold War thaw moment. That speech isn't just brilliantly written and executed but it had a real impact, showing perhaps the United States and the Soviet Union were going to be able to get along. So she was beloved by other world leaders. Nelson Mandela, who she spent time with, Brian Mulroney, John Major, who is coming. She was global in her impact on being somebody everybody respected.
BLITZER: She gave you advice as well, didn't she?
NEVINS: Yes, she did. She was always very proud of what those who worked for her went on to do with their lives. And in some ways she was encouraging them to stay home. She said it's an honor and a privilege to have the right to stay home and care for your family and not everybody has that privilege. But for those of us who wanted to continue with our careers, she was equally encouraging.
And when I joined the CIA after leaving her employment, she always -- whenever we would go visit her in Maine she always wanted to know, what was I working on, where was I going? What was I doing? What my thoughts were on current topics. But then she would always end the conversation with, now when are you going to have a family? When are you going to start a family with your husband? And she enjoyed having that balance in her world.
BROWER: I think there was also a real bond between Barbara Bush and the other first ladies who came before her. She was very close with Betty Ford, and at the Ford Library you can see the great letters between them. She wrote a beautiful note to Pat Nixon saying whenever I walk by your portrait in the White House I'm reminded of your dignity. I would love to have you come with your grandchildren for lunch. Always reaching out to them. And there was in the way that there is a fraternity of ex-presidents, there is a sorority -- it sounds diminutive but I mean it in the nicest way possible -- friendship among the former first ladies. You see it with the Obamas, the Clintons, the Bushs. But this started long ago.
BLITZER: It certainly did. There's a lot more we're watching right now, including those famous pearls. We take a closer look at the first lady's fashion as our special coverage of the funeral of Barbara Bush continues.
[10:53:20] BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's live coverage of the funeral of Barbara Bush. Many of the women we're seeing, by the way, today, they're wearing blue, her signature color, and they're also wearing pearls, her iconic jewelry. We're going to see a lot of that in the course of the coverage today of this very, very special funeral.
It's interesting, Kate, that she was always into a little bit of fashion, but she always had a little sense of humor about that, especially this picture. Watch this. You see the Keds.
BROWER: Right. She was very self-deprecating. I don't -- following Nancy Reagan, who was this famously fashionable first lady, wearing designer clothes and her signature red, I don't think Barbara Bush cared as much about fashion. She famously joked about wearing the three strands, Kenneth Jay Lane, fake pearl necklace to cover the wrinkles on her neck, and she would joke about not being a size two. She really was a relatable grandmother-like figure. But there was so much depth to her. She was a tireless campaigner for her husband. And one thing that was interesting was that when he was vice president, she told his chief of staff, I will do anything you ask of me as long as I can finish the day where my husband is.
BLITZER: They had money. They had a lot of money. But she was, what, pretty frugal?
NEVINS: She was frugal. But she came from that generation. She was born during the great depression.
BLITZER: You went shopping with her?
NEVINS: Yes, I did.
BLITZER: Talk about that.
NEVINS: I think there's this perception of them as being very wealthy, very waspy. But in reality, she was very practical.
[10:55:02] And sometimes she would just swing by the office, particularly when we were in Maine, and say come on, we're going to go shopping up in Portland. And shopping in Portland means going to a strip mall and going to the Chico's. And she would just spend an hour perusing, looking at jewelry, might buy a shirt and some pants. She had this very down-to-earth approach to life that people didn't really realize that she was as practical as they were, even given her means.
BLITZER: Kate Bennett is with us, as well, our White House reporter. Watch this little clip, Kate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA BUSH, FORMER U.S. FIRST LADY: Please notice the hair, the makeup, designer clothes.
BARBARA BUSH: I want you to watch me all week, and remember. You may never see it again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How did her fashion, Kate, reflect her values?
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It's interesting, Wolf. Another thing Barbara Bush did for fashion was bring back larger sized pant suits. Designers really riffed off the way she was comfortable in casual pant suits and that she reflected a modern American woman, an older woman, someone comfortable in her size, as Kate was saying, and in her skin.
Certainly those faux pearls set off a huge national trend. You can still buy those Kenneth Jay Lane pearls on Amazon, actually. And her one sort of extravagance was Arnold Scaasi who was a designer. He designed her inauguration gwon. She said when he died in 2015 that they would sometimes get into it about sizes and colors, but she let him take the lead on anything fancy. She was just a very down to earth person when it came to her style and her wardrobe.
BLITZER: Certainly was. Coming up, love and faith, our special coverage of the funeral of Barbara Bush continues.