Above photo by Heidi Kirn; other photos courtesy of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Scituate native Kelly Anne Chase recently coauthored “George and Barbara Bush: A Great American Love Story” with President George H.W. and Barbara Bush’s granddaughter, Ellie LeBlond Sosa. The book, released on June 1, 2018, captures the 77-year love affair of the longest-married presidential couple. We asked the two authors to share a little about the book.
Why do you think the marriage of George and Barbara Bush stood
the test of time?
Ellie: Throughout the process of writing the book we were able to interview my grandmother. The first question I asked her was: what’s the secret to being together for 77 years? Her response was classic Ganny—she said, ‘Well, I was in love and I am in love so that’s not hard.” The truth is that it wasn’t always easy. There were ups and downs, but what I think helped them through it was their commitment to each other, being able to laugh with each other and also keeping the romance going in small ways, from writing a letter to holding hands.
Kelly: Yes, I completely agree. They moved through a fascinating life from World War II to Texas to a life in public service in Washington, D.C., but they were able to keep each other grounded with their shared sense of humor and love. When one was hurting, the other was strong. When their daughter, Robin, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 3, Barbara found a lot of strength. She didn’t want her to be scared so anyone who cried had to step out into the hallway of the hospital.
Ellie: There’s a Bush gene for crying easily, so my grandfather spent a lot of time weeping in the hospital hallway. When Robin died, my grandmother fell totally apart, and my grandfather was there to pick her up and help her move forward. You never really get over the loss of a child, but they managed together and came out even stronger.
There are a few funny stories in this book, especially the one about your grandfather thinking your grandmother was blowing him off in the very beginning. Tell us about that.
Ellie: Yes! My grandfather was training for the war and my grandmother was at school in South Carolina. They exchanged letters and my grandmother had definitely swept my grandfather off his feet. When someone you were sweet on stopped writing to you, you called it «the fluff.» I guess it’s called ghosting now. But we have a few letters from my grandfather in the book that show him writing to his mom to tell her that he hadn’t received a letter from my grandmother for weeks—three weeks to be exact. He was panicking. He thought she had gone to school, maybe to another dance and forgotten all about him. Of course, she hadn’t. She was madly in love with him.
Kelly: We were lucky enough to do research at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Texas, where they have such a rich collection of letters, notes, photographs and documents. We pulled so many of these items together for the book and we hope the reader enjoys following along. President Bush was such a talented and thoughtful letter writer and Barbara Bush kept everything—her scrapbooks take up a whole aisle inside the museum’s archives!
Did you learn anything surprising about your grandparents, Ellie, while writing this book?
Ellie: We were definitely blown away by the number of letters they wrote to family and friends. My grandmother kept over 100 scrapbooks. While we were looking through the book from their years at Yale after the war, we found a wishbone—which must have been from 1945—it was the bone from their first Thanksgiving as a married couple. My grandmother laughed when we reminded her it was in there.
Kelly, you grew up in Scituate and also lived in Maine. How did you first meet the Bush family?
Kelly: Last summer, Ellie invited me up to Walker’s Point and that’s when I met President Bush and Mrs. Bush for the first time. Their house, the Big House as they call it, is on this peninsula that juts into the Atlantic, it’s so peaceful and calm – I can understand why President Bush has visited Kennebunkport, Maine, every summer of his life except one when he was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. We had so many questions during that visit and Mrs. Bush was so gracious and kind, and she told us stories that had us laughing and others that brought tears to our eyes.
What did you enjoy most about the project?
Kelly: I really enjoyed working with and getting to know the Bush family. I am in love with research, as strange as that sounds, and we spent months reading through old letters from the war, their time in China, and even letters from after the presidency. Most of these letters, or at least excerpts from them, made their way into this book and I hope readers enjoy them.