Hoping to see Robin: The loss that forever changed former president George H.W. Bush


Late in his life, George H.W. Bush pondered just who he would want to see first in heaven.

The nation’s 41st president took the question posed by granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager in an interview for NBC’s “Today” seriously, turning it over in his mind. If Barbara Bush, his wife of seven decades, died before he did, he would want to start with her, he decided. And the mother he adored, Dorothy Walker Bush.

And Robin.

He had a picture in his mind’s eye of how he hoped his daughter would appear to him – as the chubby, vivacious 3-year-old she had been before she was diagnosed with leukemia in 1953. Until that day, he had never heard of the disease that would kill her six months later.

The illness and death of Pauline Robinson Bush would be threaded through the life of her father and her mother. The experience taught them a terrible lesson about the ways the innocent can be caught and crushed by life’s unfairness. It left a stamp about what matters, and what doesn’t. It fueled George Bush’s determination to do something big in life, beyond the oil business he was building in Texas. After he became president decades later, it helped shape his policies toward the epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

Robin’s illness tested her parents’ marriage, then strengthened it.

The young couple’s response to that crisis forged a template they followed through the ebbs and flows of their long union, at 73 years the longest of any president and first lady in U.S. history.

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