As the news about the death of former First Lady Barbara Bush broke in Grayson County Tuesday night, many likely remembered her visit to Sherman back in 1998.
Bush came to town to deliver the commencement speech at Austin College. She also received an honorary doctorate in Human Letters from Austin College. A part of her speech is available to view on C-SPAN. One of the people who met the first lady was Anna Laura Page, wife of then Austin College President Oscar C. Page.
“She was wonderful, just wonderful,” Anna Laura Page recalled this week, explaining she and her granddaughter actually sat with Bush while she waited to make her speech.
“I told her, ‘I’m wearing my pearls,’” Anna Laura Page remembered of their conversation.
She said she had just known that Bush would be wearing her signature pearls for the event and she was, though she had some difficulty getting them to show with the gown she wore for the ceremony. A little work,Anna Laura Page said, and they were on display for everyone to see.
She said she doesn’t remember exactly what they talked about in their few minutes in the president’s office, but she does remember that the former first lady was very approachable and easy going.
“She gave such a good speech,” Anna Laura Page said of Bush’s talk with that year’s graduating class.
Bush was not the first in her family to speak at Austin College, nor would she be the last. Her husband, President George Herbert Walker Bush, had received an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters at the school’s commencement back in 1973, according to information from Austin College. He came to Austin College again in 2003 to collect the college’s leadership award, which is now the Posey Leadership Award.
Barbara and George H.W. Bush’s granddaughter, Barbara Pierce Bush, co-founder and board chair of the Global Health Corps, received the same award just a couple weeks ago in Sherman. Barbara Pierce Bush’s father, former President George W. Bush, was also the commencement speaker at Austin College in 1999.
Anna Laura Page said she and her husband had actually met George H.W. Bush before they came together on the Austin College campus. She said they met when Oscar Page was president at Austin Peay State College in Clarksville, Tennessee. She said they were actually with George H.W. Bush when the news broke that he would debate Bill Clinton.
The Austin College connection with the Bush family, Anna Laura Page said, likely came through Robert J. Wright, who was the president of the college’s board of trustees at the time that Barbara Bush spoke at the college. Barbara Bush referenced Bob Wright as a friend in her speech at the commencement in 1998.
Herald Democrat news clerk Mark Beardsley contributed to this report.