Former first lady Laura Bush discussed memories from her childhood, her courtship with former President George W. Bush and the causes she continues to fight for Thursday night in front of a packed Lisner Auditorium.
Bush traveled to Lisner to promote her new memoir, "Spoken From the Heart," which was officially released May 4. The memoir details her life before, during and after President Bush's White House years.
To begin the evening, Bush read an excerpt from her book after taking the stage during a standing ovation from the full house. The excerpt described the short engagement of "Midland's most eligible bachelor and the old maid" before the "31 steps down the aisle into the rest of [her] life" in November 1977.
Journalist Cokie Roberts, who described herself as "an enormous Laura Bush fan," interviewed Bush, asking questions on topics ranging from Bush's love of reading to the car accident that occurred in Bush's late teen years and that affected her for the rest of her life.
Bush, who had rarely spoken publicly about running a stop sign and the ensuing car crash that killed one of her best friends when she was 17, said she had to include details of it in her book because it helped her learn one of life's important lessons.
"It was a huge tragedy. It was a life lesson that is a very hard lesson to learn that I learned early," she said. "And that is that things happen to you or you cause things to happen. If you could take it back you would, but there is never anything you can ever do about it and you just have to accept with whatever grace you can accept it with."
Bush spoke fondly of the early weeks of her relationship with President Bush. She said although the engagement may have seemed short or reckless to some, she and President Bush both knew they were right for each other when they met.
"We had grown up just blocks from each other. We lived in the same apartment complex. We had just never run into each other. But it was like we had known each other our whole lives," she said.
Bush shared stories from President Bush's early political career, as well as President George H. W. Bush's campaigns for both the vice presidency and presidency. Bush credited politics for helping strengthen her relationship with her mother-in-law and former first lady Barbara Bush, particularly when they both lived in Washington when George H.W. Bush was vice president.
"Politics is a family business. When you have a family member in politics, you are all in it together. You have opponents, so it doesn't have be against each other," she said.
Bush said she was not worried about losing the presidency in 2000, because she knew losing a political campaign wouldn't be the end of her life. She said her one hesitation was the negative media coverage, some of which she experienced when President Bush was governor of Texas.
"Running for governor is a big job, but the media and the scrutiny and the criticism and the attacks are not near what they are when you are running for president," she said. "We knew that from watching Mr. Bush."
Bush discussed her first year in the White House and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She was on Capitol Hill preparing to brief the Senate Education Committee on early childhood education and was with Senators Ted Kennedy and Judd Gregg when she heard the news. At a press conference announcing the postponement of the briefing, a reporter asked what parents should say to their children.
"And I said then, 'What do we say to the children?' And I said parents need to assure their children that they are safe and turn off the television and don't let them watch over and over those buildings falling. It gave me the direction of what I needed to do in the days that followed," she said, referencing the letters she wrote to schoolchildren around the country about the attacks.
Turning the discussion to current projects, Bush spoke of her continued support of literacy and reading, as well as her campaigns to help women in Afghanistan gain more rights and freedoms.
"I hope that the United States will stand with Afghanistan. It's really important because if we don't, I'm afraid they'll go back to where they were before. And it's especially important for the women," she said.
Bush said the traditional press bias and public perception of first ladies as merely wives of their husbands is something she hopes will be proven false, citing examples of Lady Bird Johnson and Barbara Bush as strong advocates for different issues in their role as first lady.
"It's a shame really that these stereotypes start and our first ladies are seen as so flat and one-dimensional because they are always so much more complex and so much more interesting than those views," Bush said. "I hope and I think we're slowly moving away from that."