By Alan Madeleine
America lost a first lady a few weeks ago. But Hamtramck still has her, in a way.
Barbara (nee Pierce) Bush, wife of 41st president George H. W. Bush, passed away on April 17 at the age of 92.
She had been second lady, the term given the wife of the vice president, when her husband was Ronald Reagan’s veep from 1981 through 1989. She then assumed the mantle of first lady immediately thereafter for the next four years, upon her husband’s inauguration.
Noted as a champion of reading and universal literacy, she founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. This made her an obvious choice for inclusion on a mural in a library.
Well-regarded local muralist Dennis Orlowski, now 74 himself, received the go-ahead for the mural project while he was also in the process of becoming a dad.
“It was around 1990, maybe 1989,” Orlowski recalls. “It took me about six months to complete, more or less.
“I sketched some local kids that I would have pose in small groups. Then I mixed in the historical figures with them,” Orlowski said.
His process included sketching the separate pieces of the work first on an artist’s pad, and then transferring the drawing into the much larger work upon the wall.
A number of the people in the mural were then invited to its unveiling, including the famous ones. Unsurprisingly, most were too busy to attend, but many responded with letters politely declining, including former Russian Chairman and later President Mikhail Gorbachev, and former U.S. Rep and civil rights and LGBT icon, the late Barbara Jordan.
It is a well-documented fact that the Bushes first met in high school, and had a seven-decade-plus marriage. Known in later years for her distinct white hair, she was often derided for perhaps looking older than the president because of it. Despite this, she never wavered from keeping it its presumably natural shade, leaving her with the comfortable mantle of America’s matron.
She was also noted for her grace and poise, as well as for producing her equally politically famous sons President George W. and John, aka “Jeb,” among six children. A daughter, Pauline, aka “Robin,” died at the age of 3 from leukemia. Ms. Bush was pregnant with that same daughter when her mother was killed in a car accident, and the child was named for her.
She was notably more liberal in some areas, stating for example that abortion and homosexuality were private matters.
“I hate abortions, but I just could not make that choice for someone else,” she stated, while on the 1992 campaign trail with her husband.
In general, she was known to take fewer public stands than either Nancy Reagan before her, or Hillary Clinton after, for example. It had the effect of making her comparatively popular.
Check out Bush’s likeness along with all the others in the mural during Hamtramck Public Library hours, currently Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Note that the library is closed on both Saturdays and Sundays.
May 11, 2018