Barbara Bush's Family Literacy Legacy

Former First Lady Barbara Bush will hand off the leadership of her literacy foundation to two of her children. Mrs. Bush made the announcement at the U.S. adult literacy conference held in Houston.

Mrs. Bush spoke to several hundred literacy educators and advocates. Wearing her trademark pearls and warming up the crowd with a series of jokes, she recalls how she first got involved in the literacy cause when her husband, George Bush, first ran for president in 1980.

"I spent that summer, it's hard to believe now, jogging through Memorial Park, trying to figure out my cause. I'd always volunteered, but I'd never had one — my own special cause. It suddenly seemed to simple. If more people could read, write and comprehend, most of the problems I worried about would be either solved, or certainly much better. So the campaign was told that literacy was my interest. But we forgot to mention that I knew absolutely nothing about it."

More than 30 years later, Mrs. Bush is known for her advocacy for adult literacy. The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy has awarded more than $40 million to literacy programs across the country. At 86 years old, Mrs. Bush says she knows she has more years behind her than ahead of her.

"And that is why I'm thrilled to tell you today that the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy will remain as a partner in the fight against illiteracy with new leadership. Our wonderful children, Doro Bush Koch and Jeb Bush, will be taking over the stewardship of the foundation. This doesn't mean I will be going away. Too bad."

Mrs. Bush says she will serve as honorary chair for the foundation.

It's estimated that about 30 million people in the United States, or 14 percent of the adult population, are functionally illiterate. That means they don't read well enough to understand a basic newspaper article or fill out a job application.

Doro Bush Koch joined her mother at the event and says she's proud to carry on the family legacy of promoting literacy.

"As a mother myself, I believe in my heart and in my own experience that parents need to be their children's best teachers. For all the discussion about policies and platforms, the true goal is to make literacy a cultural value for every family in the United States."

The former First Lady closed her remarks saying every person who learns to read is a victory.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...