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With the passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush, we’ve lost another member of the Greatest Generation, Americans born between the turn of the century and the mid 1920s who survived the Great Depression, fought and won World War II, and as Tom Brokaw put it in his bestselling book about them, gave the generations that followed “the opportunity to accumulate great economic wealth, political muscle, and the freedom from foreign oppression to make whatever choices they like."
Among the defining characteristics of the Greatest Generation was the acceptance of personal responsibility.
Barbara Bush lost her first-born daughter as a toddler to leukemia and suffered from serious health problems for much of her adult life, but never used her hardships as an excuse to avoid serving others.
Humility is another key trait of the Greatest Generation, and Barbara Bush had that in spades.
She had the money to buy fancy clothes, but declined to do so and poked fun at her own lack of fashion glamor. On those rare occasions when she didn’t live up to her own standards, like making a snide remark about a political adversary, she graciously apologized.
And in 2013, amid speculation about yet another Bush, Jeb, running for president, Mrs. Bush noted that “there are a lot of great families” and added “we’ve had enough Bushes.”
She still campaigned for Jeb when he did run in 2016, but her analysis of voter fatigue with family dynasties was prescient.
Class, humility, a sense of higher duty, profound personal strength – those are qualities we don’t see in public life as often as we might like these days.
Maybe there’s a lot we can still learn from the example of Barbara Bush and the Greatest Generation.