‘Laura Bush: shaped by Texas,’ first lady’s former Chief of Staff tells Southern First Ladies Conference

Anita McBride, The former Chief of Staff to Laura Bush, said that the former first lady used her Texas roots to form her legislative plan during a speech to the Southern First Ladies Conference on Wednesday.

“It helped to be fearless if you lived in Midland, Texas,” McBride quoted from Laura Bush. “There’s plainness to the way west Texas looks that shapes what the people value and how they act.”

McBride said this Texas fearlessness was displayed in a variety of Mrs. Bush’s actions during her eight years as the first lady. Mrs. Bush was also influenced by her work as first a school teacher and then later a librarian, where she learned the importance of children’s literacy.

“Laura Bush’s goal as the first lady was to teach children through the magic of words,” McBride said.

Mrs. Bush spearheaded several programs while she was the first lady, focusing on literacy and education. This included her establishment of the “Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries,” a program that seeks to fund libraries in need. McBride said she admired Mrs. Bush for this accomplishment.

“Laura said, ‘If I’m going to be a public figure, I might as well do what I’ve always loved doing,’ which was getting children and families interested in reading,” McBride said.

McBride also said that Laura’s love for Texas was parallel to none. She recounted that while in Africa riding camels with the first lady, they met a group of tourists from Texas who immediately began doing the “hook ’em horns” hand signal.

“She was the first lady, but she was still the girl from the heart of Texas,” McBride said.

Mrs. Bush was not the first first lady from Texas. Lady Bird Johnson was also influenced by her Texas upbringing. McBride said Mrs. Bush looked to Lady Bird as an inspiration.

“Working in the shadow of Lady Bird helped Laura launch her 2007 initiative, “First Bloom”, to teach children how to connect to nature and learn about native plant species,” McBride said.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, McBride was responsible for organizing Mrs. Bush’s trips around the world. She said that she was always amazed by the bipartisan support the first lady could gather.

“Mrs. Bush’s contributions have been widely recognized, even by those across party lines,” McBride said.

McBride started working for Mrs. Bush during her husband’s campaign for the 2001 presidential election. She had an intimate relationship with the first lady. Professor Jeffrey Engle says this is one of the reasons he chose McBride to speak at the conference.

“She’s a person who was able to see how it works, why it works, and what it’s working actually means, from her positions for the first lady,” Engel said.

About 200 people turned out to hear McBride’s speech. Among those was American History student Ashley Anthony.

“It was really cool to hear about how Laura Bush’s Texas roots shaped her decisions as the first lady,” Anthony said. “It is definitely something I will think about now when I see her at basketball games.”

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