'You have given me joy': A look at the 73-year marriage of Barbara and George H.W. Bush

Barbara Bush may be remembered as one of the most influential Americans ever.

Married 73 years, she and George H.W. Bush were joined in matrimony longer than any other presidential couple in American history.

Other than Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, the nation’s second president, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, Bush was one of only two first ladies who also was the mother of a president.

The couple’s relationship is a true love story.

“You have given me joy that few men know,” George H.W. Bush wrote to her, according to a collection of letters published in 1999.

“I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara’s husband,” he also said.

Their lifelong love began when they met at a Christmas dance. She was 17. He was 18.

The former president was a naval aviator in training when they met.

Future first lady Barbara Bush holds son George W. Bush as the future President George Bush looks on in New Haven, Connecticut, in this April, 1947, file photo. With the Republican convention set to begin in Philadelphia on July 31, the political focus has centered on who Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush will pick to be his running mate.

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Future first lady Barbara Bush holding son George W. Bush as George H.W. Bush looks on in New Haven, Connecticut, in this April 1947 file photo.

“I’m not much at recalling what people wear, but that particular occasion stands out in my memory,” the president wrote in his autobiography.

The band was playing Glenn Miller tunes and he asked a friend from Rye, N.Y., if he knew the girl across the room in the green and red holiday dress.

The friend introduced him to Barbara Pierce, a publisher’s daughter from Rye who was going to school in South Carolina.

The next song was a waltz.

“Since I didn’t waltz, we sat the dance out. And several more after that, talking and getting to know each other,” George H.W. Bush said. “It was a storybook meeting.”

Within eight months, they’d met each other’s families. The couple got engaged in August 1943 and married Jan. 6, 1945, four months after Bush was shot down over the Pacific.

He’d been the Navy’s youngest aviator when he got his wings, and carried the name “Barbara” on his Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber.

“George Bush knows how I feel,” Barbara Bush had said. “He is the hero. ... He is my hero.”

After the war, he attended Yale and they moved to Texas.

Her husband made his mark in the oil business as they grew their family and turned to politics, a journey that would take them around the world and into the White House.

In her 1994 memoir, Barbara Bush described her and her husband as “the two luckiest people in the world, and when all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends. We have been inordinately blessed, and we know that.”

Before she died, granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager described the Bushes’ love as “remarkable.”

The former president “still says, ‘I love you, Barbie,’ every night,” Hager said on NBC’s “Today,” where she works, before her grandmother’s death.

The couple had six children, including Hager’s father, former president George W. Bush.

George H.W. Bush, 93, has described Barbara as “the mainstay, of course, the parent who was always there to help solve the daily problems and emergencies of teen and preteen life.”

Over the decades, the Bushes were captured in photographs in moments of care, such as when Barbara Bush applied sunscreen to the 41st president’s nose at a 2015 baseball game between the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners; and candor, notably after Bush stepped on his wife’s toe in 1989 while boarding Air Force One.

Their marriage also endured more serious trials.

Their daughter Robin died in 1953 of leukemia a few weeks before her 4th birthday.

Barbara Bush also recalled a bout of depression in the mid-1970s.

“Night after night, George held me weeping in his arms while I tried to explain my feelings,” she said. “I almost wonder why he didn’t leave me.”

In 2013, she told C-SPAN in an interview that they prayed aloud each night, “and sometimes we fight over whose turn it is.”

In the same conversation, she said she didn’t fear death for herself or “my precious George.”

“I know there is a great God, and I’m not worried,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.