Barbara Bush, the beloved matriarch of the Bush family, passed away on Tuesday at age 92 after a struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure.
Former President George H.W. and Barbara Bush were the longest married presidential couple in history, having married in January of 1945. The two met at a Christmas dance in Greenwich, Conn., when Barbara Bush (then Barbara Pierce) was a 15-year-old girl on Christmas break. George (Poppy) Bush, a recent Andover graduate, asked a fellow guest if he knew the “strikingly beautiful girl” in the red and green holiday-themed dress. That was the beginning of a love story for the ages.
After winter break, Barbara Pierce went back to school in the South, but the two became pen pals. They wouldn’t see each other again until spring break, when they went on a double-date to Citizen Kane. He asked her to Andover’s senior prom, where he kissed her on the cheek, “in front of the world,” as she later recalled the moment.
In the summer of 1943, they made it official, as TIME explained in 1989:
The two became engaged that summer in Kennebunkport. It was a secret engagement, Bush says, meaning ”the German and Japanese high commands weren’t aware of it.” But after Bush was shot down over the Pacific in September 1944, Barbara dropped out of Smith in her sophomore year to marry him at the First Presbyterian Church in Rye. ”I married the first man I ever kissed,” she says. ”When I tell this to my children , they just about throw up.”
In 2011, George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna Bush Hager had her grandparents read some of their love letters for TODAY’s audience. Jenna said she and her twin sister Barbara had found stacks of letters in boxes in their grandparents’ house and they were “precious” to their family.
During the incredibly moving segment, the elder Bush teared up several times, prompting Jenna to cry too and Barbara to tease him, saying, “you know what? you could be Speaker of the House.”