Former first ladies Laura, Barbara Bush speak at SMU

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by DEBBIE DENMON

WFAA

Posted on March 5, 2012 at 7:43 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 5 at 8:33 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK — "I've been around strong women all my life," said former President George W. Bush, who introduced his favorite first ladies — his wife Laura and mother Barbara Bush — at an SMU conference Monday.

Both of these powerful women reflected on their time at the White House, and their personal photographers shared historic moments and favorite pastimes in the event at the George Bush Center on SMU's campus before a crowd of about 300 people.

Barbara Bush said making the 130-room White House mansion feel like home is a cherished memory. "The thing I loved most was I could hear Jenna and Barbara and Marshall and Walker giggling and laughing," she said.

First lady Barbara Bush said a visit from her grandchildren was a precious time, and she had to admit to pampering them.

"When your own grandchildren come to your house, you work," she said. "When they come to the White House, 90-something people take care of them."

The crowd roared with laughter at Barbara Bush's honesty about living the ultimate life of luxury.

Laura Bush talked about taking comfort in living in a place where every president has resided — except for George Washington. And while she said she loved re-decorating the Abraham Lincoln bedroom, she conceded there was something surreal about that particular room.

"We owned one of the five copies of the Gettysburg Address written in Lincoln's hand, and that was in the room," Laura Bush said. "Our guests who would come stay in the Lincoln bedroom would look at that ... and read it and weep. That was very very moving to see."

Photos from the first Bush administration showed how the first lady's dogs stole the spotlight. Their dog Milly secretly slept in between her and president George H. W. Bush.

She joked that there are not supposed to be any dogs touching the White House furniture, but said Milly had few boundaries.

And maybe that is a good thing, because photos of the presidential pup made a lot of money for charity.

"As George said, 'I had the highest job of the land, and my dog made more money than I did!'" Barbara Bush joked.

The first ladies also talked about how hard it was at times listening to all the criticism about their husbands. "Because you know much more than what the public knows, but the criticism just kind of goes along with the job," Laura Bush said.

Barbara and Laura Bush said they miss the White House chef the most; what they least miss the least are the politics, especially Barbara Bush.

"It's been, I think, the worst campaign I've ever seen in my life; I hate it," the elder Bush said. "I hate the fact that people think 'compromise' is a dirty word."

Both former first ladies said they are enjoying their "regular" lives after the White House experience. But after seeing so many Secret Service personnel at the SMU event, "regular" is a relative term.

Nonetheless, both said they enjoy giving back to their communities now and feel fortunate to have served the American public.

E-mail ddenmon@wfaa.com

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