Barbara Bush may have stepped down as the chair of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and into an honorary role, but her humor and drive certainly remain a guiding influence over the foundation’s annual fundraising event, A Celebration of Reading.
She opened the 2013 Celebration at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts with a tale of marital woe. She’s quite at her wits’ end attempting to control President George H. W Bush’s new vice, loud socks.
Accompanied by photographic evidence, the First Lady of Literacy — as her son Neil titled her — explained how the president’s eye-popping foot-cover collection is upstaging even celebrities like Conan O’Brien, when they are in the presence of his imposing presidential socks.
Moments later as a gaggle of beautiful Houston Texans cheerleaders pushed the smiling wheel-chair bound, but still irrepressible, sock fashionista across the stage, Barbara Bush uttered with comic timing so precise, it would make Conan O’Brien envious: “I guess we can stop the prayers. He’s well.”
Neil Bush announced that the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation would be embarking on a new initiative to develop a community action blueprint to fight illiteracy in Houston.
That inspirational line, filled with humor and hope, in many ways held the themes for the night.
After reminding the audience that one out of five Houstonians are functionally illiterate, event chairs Maria and Neil Bush announced that the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation would be embarking on a new initiative to develop a community action blueprint to fight illiteracy in Houston. They hoped this blueprint could eventually be followed by other cities around the country.
A major portion of the $2.1 million raised by A Celebration of Reading will be dedicated to the new program.
Then, that celebration began in earnest as acclaimed authors Jon Meacham, Dr. Mary C. Neal, Brad Thor and Mark K. Shriver took the stage to share their books and stories and continue the evening’s themes of hope and inspiration.
The audience also received a peek into their reading future during Lauren Bush Lauren’s introductory remarks for the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham. Before he began reading from his best-selling Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Bush Lauren revealed Meacham is currently at work on a biography of the sock super model himself, President George H. W. Bush.
The last author speaker, Mark Kennedy Shriver, who certainly knows something about political dynasties, gave a particularly moving tribute to his father Sargent Shriver. During his talk he managed to once again bring the audience back to the inspiration of hope and family and the power of literacy.
Doro Bush Koch rounded out the speakers as she reminded the audience of the Barbara Bush Foundation of Family Literacy’s history and its future as it turns 25 in 2014.
Another highlight of the evening came late in the program when the Neil Bush's three children — Ashley, Pierce and Lauren Bush Lauren — came together to read aloud excepts from the newly revised, All the Best, George H. W. Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings.
The program ended after a musical finale by Tamar Davis who was backed by students from the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
As the approximately 2,000 guests moved onto the stage or in the Hobby Center lobby to enjoy a light dinner, Neil Bush reminded everyone to check their gift bags. All guests went home with a pair of colorful socks, a fitting reward for coming together to “Sock it to illiteracy.”