Barbara Bush, the fierce and beloved matriarch of the Bush family, died at the age of 92 on Tuesday.
The former First Lady had the longest marriage in presidential history — she was married to President George H.W. Bush for 73 years, dropping out of college to follow along as her childhood love grew in his career. The couple met when Barbara Bush (then Barbara Pierce) was a 15-year-old girl on Christmas break.
It was 1941 at a Christmas dance in Greenwich, Conn., when George Bush, a recent Andover graduate, asked fellow guest Jack Wozencraft if he knew the “strikingly beautiful girl” in the red and green holiday-themed dress, Jon Meacham writes in Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. Wozencraft told Bush that the girl was Barbara Pierce, a Rye, N.Y., native who was a senior at the boarding school Ashley Hall in Charleston, S.C., and the daughter of the publishing executive Marvin Pierce. Wozencraft asked if he wanted to meet her and Bush recalled saying, “That was the general idea,” so he introduced George by his nickname Poppy.
After winter break, Barbara Pierce went back to school in the South, but the two became pen pals. They wouldn’t see each other again until spring break, when they went on a double-date to Citizen Kane. He asked her to Andover’s senior prom, where he kissed her on the cheek, “in front of the world,” as she later recalled the moment.
In the summer of 1943, they made it official, as TIME explained in 1989:
The two became engaged that summer in Kennebunkport. It was a secret engagement, Bush says, meaning ”the German and Japanese high commands weren’t aware of it.” But after Bush was shot down over the Pacific in September 1944, Barbara dropped out of Smith in her sophomore year to marry him at the First Presbyterian Church in Rye. ”I married the first man I ever kissed,” she says. ”When I tell this to my children, they just about throw up.”
Here, take a look back at their love story.