Ann Cherry remembers Barbara Bush’s trip to the Peninsula in October 1992 quite well.
Bush visited to check out the Peninsula Literacy Council, now called Peninsula READS. Its efforts to improve literacy rates fell in line with the first lady’s personal crusade to do the same across the country.
Cherry, who then worked as the education coordinator for the Daily Press as well as a member of the council, had been tasked with talking to Bush about early literacy efforts in area schools.
A photo of the two, in which Bush holds a book given to her by Cherry and the Daily Press, hung in Cherry’s office for the 17 years that she worked in Hampton City Schools.
Cherry, now vice chairwoman of the Hampton School Board, said she looked at it Tuesday when she learned of Bush’s passing.
Bush died at home in Houston just days after the office of her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, issued a statement that she had “decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care.”
She was 92.
“Meeting her was like meeting a longtime friend,” said Cherry, who was Ann Stephens at the time of Barbara Bush’s visit. “She was outspoken yet friendly, warm yet sincere. … She was an amazing woman who had a passion for ensuring that children be prepared for success at an early age.”
Hampton University President William R. Harvey said he worked “quite a bit” with President Bush, and through that interacted with Barbara Bush several times.
“She was such a gracious first lady," Harvey said. “She was unpretentious, she was down to earth and she was straightforward. And you know that’s what I like about people because I’m straightforward.”
Harvey spoke highly of the Bush’s 73 years of marriage, calling it a “wonderful love story.”
“I think that the obvious love affair that she had and her husband had continues to inspire folks like myself and my wife Norma, and others, I don’t care what your politics may be,” he said.
The couple’s interaction together also struck Scott Stabler, Huntington Ingalls Industries executive vice president and chief transformation officer. According to a statement supplied by the company, Stabler said meeting George and Barbara Bush during a naming ceremony for CVN 77 (now the USS George H.W. Bush) was a “distinctive memory.”
Stabler was responsible for program management and construction of the Bush at the Newport News shipyard, from the contract award in 2001 until successful builder’s sea trials in 2009, according to the statement.
“They made everyone feel comfortable,” he said of how the Bushes split up to greet everyone in the room at the ceremony. “That was a great first impression.”
The Bushes attended the keel laying, island landing and catapult testing at the shipyard.
“It was a privilege to participate in the construction for a living namesake. She was there every time,” Stabler said. “They were clearly a team and very easy to work with. Nothing but fond memories.”
In a statement, HII President and CEO Mike Petters said, “We were honored to have Barbara Bush visit Newport News Shipbuilding multiple times during the construction and christening of the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). She was a very gracious and enthusiastic lady whose love of life, her family, and her country was evident in everything she did. She will be missed.”
Those were some of several visits the Bushes made to the region. According to Colonial Williamsburg officials, Barbara Bush and her husband, then the vice president, attended the Yorktown Bicentennial in October 1981.
As its sponsor, Barbara Bush christened the USS George Washington at the shipyard in July 1990.
In an article from the Daily Press archives from the event, then-shipyard employee Lois Bowman said, “She exemplifies some of the best traits of American womanhood. We identify with her. I think she's down to earth, very practical-minded. She has the interests of young people as well as old people."
Barbara Bush’s life will be celebrated at an event Thursday in Houston. She will lie in repose Friday for public viewing at St. Martin’s Church in Houston, with a private funeral service planned for Saturday, according to the family’s official funeral announcement. Flags across the nation flew at half-staff on Wednesday in her honor.
Staff members Hugh Lessig and Andi Petrini contributed to this report. Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951 or on Twitter @byjanehammond.