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Written by Ed Lengel

George H. W. Bush’s Children


George Herbert Walker Bush (1924-2018), forty-first president of the United States, was born in Milton, Massachusetts, and enjoyed a privileged upbringing in Greenwich, Connecticut, and at family homes in Maine and South Carolina. He graduated from Phillips Academy in 1942, after which he joined the United States Navy, serving honorably in combat during World War II. Marrying Barbara Pierce (1925-2018) in 1945, he graduated from Yale University three years later, and then moved with his family to West Texas where he began a successful career in the oil industry.

Entering politics with the Republican Party in a state then dominated by the Democratic Party of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Bush won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966. Over the next four years, he maintained a generally moderate voting record, and supported Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential primaries against Ronald Reagan, who was followed by the party’s more conservative wing. In 1970, however, Bush failed in a bid for the U.S. Senate. Over the following several years he earned plaudits as ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Director of Central Intelligence. Squaring off against Reagan in the 1980 Republican presidential primaries, Bush lost, but went on to serve two terms as Reagan’s vice president before handily winning election as president of the United States in 1988.

Bush’s one term as president from 1989 to 1993 was highlighted by the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War; the U.S. invasion of Panama; and the Persian Gulf War of 1991. At home, he attempted to promote a socially active brand of conservatism dubbed a “thousand points of light”; but economic troubles and Bush’s backtrack on his pledge not to create new taxes crippled him in the 1992 election, which he lost to Bill Clinton. In his long retirement afterwards, though, George and Barbara Bush became much admired for their grace and integrity. Through their strong and devoted marriage, they stewarded one of the most remarkable presidential families in American history, one that seemed to have the makings of a political dynasty.

George Walker Bush

The eldest child of George H. W. Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush was born on July 6, 1946, while his father was a student at Yale University. The family moved to West Texas when he was only two; eventually, they settled in a home on Ohio Avenue in the town of Midland. Here young George attended Sam Houston Elementary School and San Jacinto Junior High School–and began but did not complete–Kincaid High School. It was generally a happy childhood, except for the tragic death of George’s sister, Robin, from leukemia in 1953, which affected the whole family. Their 1,400-foot, three-bedroom home was filled with toys and the electric trains which George particularly enjoyed.[1]

George W. Bush studied at Phillips Andover Academy from 1961-1964, and while he did not particularly distinguish himself as a student or an athlete, he was popular among his classmates for his sociability and sense of humor. Despite his middling academic skills, and perhaps because of his family connections to the school, Bush was then accepted into Yale University, where he studied history. Here too he was no more than a middling student, but still popular, and became president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity as well as a member of the Skull and Bones secret society. His first newspaper appearance, defending hazing procedures at Yale fraternities as “the least physically severe initiations in the country,” was perhaps inauspicious for a future United States president; but even his future opponents had to admit that stories of allegedly outrageously wild partying that later emerged were exaggerated.[2]

George W. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard from 1968-1974, and reached the rank of first lieutenant, flying an F-102 jet aircraft. He received an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1975. Afterwards, however, he struggled with episodes of alcohol abuse and was pulled over for DUI in Maine in 1976. His marriage to Laura Welch in 1977 and subsequent religious conversion experience, along with the birth of twin daughters in 1981, led to a resolution to abstain in 1986. All this time, Bush was occupied mostly with business affairs, because his attempt to enter Congress in 1978 was unsuccessful. In 1994, though, he was elected governor of Texas, winning a landslide re-election in 1998. He served two terms as president of the United States from 2001-2009.

Pauline Robinson Bush

Born on December 20, 1949, during her parents’ brief stint in Compton, California, Robin Bush, as she was known, was a gentle, outgoing, and energetic child. In 1953, however, she began complaining of listlessness. Her parents took her to the doctor, who revealed the devastating news: the child had incurable leukemia. The doctor’s “advice was to tell no one, go home, forget that Robin was sick, make her as comfortable as we could, love her—and let her gently slip away. She said this would happen very quickly,” Barbara Bush remembered. Robin’s parents nevertheless did all they could to save the child’s life before she died on October 11, 1953. The loss of their beloved daughter would remain with George H. W. and Barbara Bush through the remainder of their lives and inspire the Bush family’s creation of the Bright Star Foundation for cancer research.[3]

John Ellis Bush

Born on February 11, 1953, in Midland, Texas, Jeb Bush (so known because of his initials) didn’t remember much of the Ohio Avenue home in which he and George, Jr., spent their early years, because the family moved to Houston in 1959. He did, however, come to love Texas, despite the extreme heat that, as Jeb later recalled, caused people at a minor league baseball game he and his family attended to pass out from heatstroke. Jeb, ironically, took an interest in politics before his older brother. In the Tanglewood subdivision of Houston in which they lived, ten-year-old Jeb produced a periodical titled “Neighborhood Round-Up” that chronicled, among other things, his father’s burgeoning political career. Friends remembered Jeb as a competitive sandlot athlete, and a kid who “always stood out as being a little more serious, a little more focused.”[4]

Jeb went to Phillips Andover Academy in 1967, and initially made an exceptionally poor showing, with bad grades and recreational drug use. In his senior year, however, he participated in a student exchange program to the little town of Ibarrilla, Mexico that changed his life. There he met Columba Garnica Gallo, daughter of an impoverished farming family, who had suffered from traumatic family abuse. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, Bush, as he later remembered, “fell madly in love with her—literally love at first sight. Whatever I was doing beforehand, I vaguely remember. But my life got really organized after that.” The two were married in 1974, but well before that Jeb changed the trajectory of his life. He finished his term at Andover on the honor roll and then, turning away from the family tradition, attended the University of Texas at Austin. While other students partied, Jeb stayed focused on his studies and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Latin American Studies in 1974.[5]

Following graduation, Jeb Bush took a job with Texas Commerce Bank and moved with his family to an office in Caracas, Venezuela. He returned to Houston in 1979 and then moved to Miami, Florida, also pursuing business while supporting his father’s political career. At the same time Bush started working his way into Florida Republican politics, serving as the state’s Secretary of Commerce in 1987-1988, and running unsuccessfully for governor in 1994. In 1998 he was elected governor and won a second term in 2002. His bid for the Republican Party’s nomination in the 2016 presidential primaries failed, however, leaving him to return to what has been an exceptionally successful business career.[6]

Neil Mallon Bush

Born on January 22, 1955 in Midland, Texas, Neil Bush has enjoyed a prosperous, but not untroubled career in business, without following the family profession of politics. As a child, Neil was known as “Mr. Perfect” because of his thoughtful diligence, but he struggled at school with what was eventually diagnosed as dyslexia. Neil nevertheless remembered a happy childhood with his father—with whom he particularly enjoyed boating—and his mother, who was loving and attentive, but took on the role as family “enforcer.” Neil graduated from St. Albans Prep School in Washington, D.C., in 1973, and went on to graduate from Tulane University with a BA in economics in 1977, and an MBA in 1979.[7]

Delving into business, Neil became among other things a member of the board of directors of the Silverado Savings and Loan Company, living in Denver, Colorado with his wife Sharon Smith. The company’s collapse in the 1980s amid heavy criticism of its board–including Neil–and at high cost to taxpayers, not only embarrassed then-Vice President George H. W. Bush, but ended any hope of a political career for Neil, who had been considering running for governor of Colorado. He continued a very active business career thereafter, and although he has come under criticism for some of his business dealings and a high-profile divorce in 2003, Neil Bush has also been active in philanthropy, including the global charitable nonprofit Points of Light.[8]

Marvin Pierce Bush

The youngest son of George H. W. and Barbara Bush, was born in Midland, Texas, on October 22, 1956. Growing up as his father’s political career began in Washington, D.C., Marvin had the weakest connection to Texas among the four brothers, and attended Woodberry Forest School in Madison County, Virginia, and then the University of Virginia, from which he graduated in 1979 with a degree in English. Although he took time off from his senior year to campaign for his father’s presidential campaign, he disavowed any personal interest in politics and kept to that pledge. In personal life too, this “athletic, lanky and handsome” son of a president, and brother of another, avoided the limelight. “I keep a very low profile,” he commented in 1990. “I lead a private life and I’m proud of it.”[9]

In his business affairs, Marvin Bush has been quietly cautious and productive. And he likewise took to heart a report that his father commissioned on the lives of past presidential children after the 1988 presidential election, which concluded that the media would criticize them no matter what they did: “Try something great and appear grandiose and presumptuous. Try to lead a quiet life and appear lazy or unambitious.” In the early 1990s, though, he came public with his severe health struggles with ulcerative colitis and has been active in supporting charity for research into that disease.[10]

Dorothy Walker Bush

In the late 1950s, George H. W. Bush wrote to his mother: “The running, pulsating restlessness of the four boys as they struggle to learn and grow—needs a counterpart. We need some starched crisp frocks to go with all our torn-kneed blue jeans and helmets. We need some soft blond hair to offset those crew cuts. We need a doll house to stand firm against our forts and rackets and thousand baseball cards. We need a girl.” That the family got on August 18, 1959, with the birth near Houston of Dorothy Bush, or “Doro” as she was known.[11]

As a child, Doro remembered her father tucking her into bed with a bedtime story every night, but she also remembered asking him about her deceased sister Robin. “My father would read me a bedtime story, and then I’d always ask him to tell me about Robin,” she remembered. “I’d end up crying, and sometimes he would cry too. Obviously, my parents loved her very much.” Like her brothers, she also remembered boat rides: “My dad loved his boat, and he loved to drive it fast. We learned to ride on the bow and hang on with our legs. There was a railing to hang onto, and we’d go pounding over the biggest waves, flying in the air.”[12]

Dorothy Bush attended school at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut, and then received a BA in sociology from Boston College in 1981. She has four children by two marriages, all of whom were doted upon by her grandparents. Perhaps inspired by her father’s bedtime stories, she has been active in supporting the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. She also wrote a biography, My Father, My President: A Personal Account of the Life of George H. W. Bush, in 2006.[13]

[1] https://www.nps.gov/NR/travel/presidents/george_bush_home.html; The Guardian (U.K.), 14 Nov. 2015,

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/14/george-w-bush-childhood-home-midland-texas-jeb

[2] New York Times, June 10, 2000; Hartford Courant, Nov. 8, 1967; Washington Post, July 27, 1999.

[3] Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2018.

[4] The Guardian (UK), Nov. 14, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/14/george-w-bush-childhood-home-midland-texas-jeb; Texas Tribune, Mar. 17, 2015, https://www.texastribune.org/2015/03/17/jeb-bush-texas-years/.

[5] Washington Post, Mar. 21, 2015.

[6] Texas Tribune, Mar. 17, 2015, https://www.texastribune.org/2015/03/17/jeb-bush-texas-years/.

[7] Washington Post, Dec. 28, 2003; Interview on KBTX-TV, Dec. 4, 2018, https://www.kbtx.com/content/news/Neil-Bush-on-memories-of-his-father-former-President-George-HW-Bush-501928081.html

[8] Washington Post, Dec. 28, 2003.

[9] Muscatine Journal, Dec. 4, 1979; Baltimore Sun, Sept. 25, 1990.

[10] Lexington Herald-Leader, Mar. 6, 1990.

[11] Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2018.

[12] Parade, Dec. 3, 2018, https://parade.com/721325/debrawallace/an-intimate-look-at-the-late-president-george-h-w-bush-and-his-daughter-dorothy/

[13] New York Times, Sept. 2, 1982.