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A Chance Encounter With Barbara Bush
East Wing Magazine reader shares her story of meeting the former first lady and its lasting impact.
In early July 1989, Laurie Luongo had a chance encounter with then First Lady Barbara Bush, wife of George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States. The experience took place one afternoon at the Westin Seattle, a hotel where Bush was staying and where Luongo had worked. At the time, Luongo recalls that Bush had been giving a talk on literacy not long after the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy was established in March of 1989. It was a moment that made a lasting impression on Luongo and, ultimately, reshaped her perspective on the often unseen work of presidential first ladies. Luongo shares that story and its lasting impact with East Wing Magazine.
What were the circumstances surrounding your encounter with former First Lady Barbara Bush?
I was involved in literacy so I asked my supervisor if I could meet her as part of the welcome to the hotel.
What was the experience like?
When the first lady approached with her small entourage, she was introduced to me and immediately grabbed my hand to shake it. She held onto my hand for the entire 30 seconds or so that we spoke. She focused only on me, looked me directly in the eyes and held eye contact the entire time. It was quite powerful and memorable.
How did the encounter make you feel?
Mrs. Bush made me feel like what I did for literacy mattered and I know how important the cause was to her.
What was Mrs. Bush like?
She was warm, gracious, unassuming and extremely polite.
What was surprising about your interaction with her?
I was surprised that I was not intimidated by her. She made everyone feel very welcome. I was surprised that she took the time to actually chat with me and have our photo taken given how busy her schedule must have been.
What kind of lasting impact did your encounter with Mrs. Bush have?
After my interaction with Mrs. Bush, I began in earnest to research first ladies and I became very interested in their role and place in society, which has evolved over the years. It gave me a greater appreciation of how vital they are to our nation. The first lady has a tremendous opportunity to champion a cause or causes like Mrs. Bush did with literacy.
For more than three decades the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy’s mission has focused on supporting adults and families to have the opportunity to learn to read, write and better understand the world around them, according to the organization’s website. The foundation has provided more than $110 million to literacy programs in every state across the country.
Readers interested in sharing stories about their encounters with America’s first ladies can do so by emailing Editor Jennifer Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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