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Barbara Bush’s Silver Fox Legacy Lives on in Emotional $2.2 Million Houston Night

Bush's Son Tears Up During Speech, Talks About Being Grateful

BY // 05.07.19

Former First Lady Barbara Bush’s legacy of championing literacy lives on as strong as ever as witnessed by the 25th annual Celebration of Reading, the fundraiser she founded and chaired for most of those years. Consider the 2019 Houston chapter in this unending book of philanthropy, which earned more than $2.2 million for literacy programs.

This evening was, as Neil Bush noted, a silver anniversary for the “Silver Fox,” as his mother was affectionately known. Bush and his wife, Maria, took the reins of the evening several years ago and today usher in the same enthusiasm for the event that this year hosted 1,600 in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.

Proceeds benefit the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and national literacy efforts of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

The typically upbeat evening was not without its poignant moments this year as the Bushes noted the passing of philanthropist and oilman Lester Smith and philanthropist and Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, both of whom were longtime and generous supporters of Barbara Bush’s “Celebrating of Reading.”

Likewise, in thanking Phillips 66 for its fifth year of sponsorship and interior designer Bill Stubbs for underwriting the cost of recreating the Bushes living room on the Sarofim Hall stage, Neil Bush spoke through tears.

“Just imagine Dad sitting in that chair holding a martini and Mom sitting beside him needlepointing,” Neil said. “Mom would be so proud and grateful to see so many people here tonight continuing to support her cause of literacy.” The scene was set with the actual furnishings and accessories from the late Bushes’ Tanglewood home.

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The Authors Speak

The Bushes might have been gone but the evening resonated with memories of the beloved couple. USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page, author of  The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty, allowed that some two months before the former first lady died, she gave Page access to her never-before-shared diaries. Page shared an excerpt from her subject’s last diary entry in which she listed the things in life that she was most grateful for. Her children and family were at the top of her list.

Ellie LeBlond Sosa, Barbara Bush’s granddaughter and co-author of  George and Barbara Bush: The Great American Love Story, shared her memories of her famed grandparents.

Rounding out the program was neuroscientist and New York Times best-selling author David Eagleman,  who was part comedian and part philosopher as he regaled the gathering with anecdotes from his colorful life and spoke on the importance of literacy; best-selling author James Patterson, who spoke on the importance of literacy and its value in “saving lives;” and Gary Sinise, who spoke on his passion for supporting veterans, that focus revealed in his book Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service.

Dinner is Served

As is tradition, high-ticket holders remained after the program to dine with the authors and VIPs who included Julie Baker Finck, president of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation; Terri and John Havens, who hosted the author lunch at their River Oaks home the previous day; Houston Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair and wife Hannah; Houston Texans principal owner Janice McNair; and representatives of the Quanex Foundation, one of two presenting sponsors.

As tradition holds, Jackson and Company provided the pre-set dinner featured beef tenderloin with red onion marmalade, apricot chicken salad, haricots verts with red and yellow pepper confetti, sugar snap peas, cucumber and radish salad with rice wine vinaigrette and quinoa and corn relish salad. For dessert, guests enjoyed brownies, chocolate dipped coconut macaroons, strawberries, ginger snaps and pignolia cookies.

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