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On a $1.9 million night, Barbara Bush hands over the reins to Celebration of Reading

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Broadway singer George Dvorsky serenades Barbara Bush at the Celebration of Reading as Doro Bush and Maria and Neil Bush join her on stage.   Photo by David Shutts
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Authors Harlan Coben, from left, Blake Mycoskie, Donovan Campbell and Sandra Brown visit before the start of the Celebration of Reading at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by David Shutts
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Lauren Bush Photo by David Shutts
News_Barbara Bush_Celebration of Reading_April 2012_David Feherty
David Feherty Photo by David Shutts
News_Shelby_Celebration of Reading_Barbara Bush_George Dvorksy_Doro Bush_Maria Bush_Neil Bush_April 2012
News_Shelby_Celebration of Reading_April 2012_Harlan Coben_Blake Mycoskie_Donovan Campbell_Sandra Brown
News_Barbara Bush_Celebration of Reading_April 2012_Lauren Bush
News_Barbara Bush_Celebration of Reading_April 2012_David Feherty

"This time it is goodbye." And with that Barbara Bush made it official at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.

After 18 years of leading Celebration of Reading fundraisers around the country and after 23 years of heading the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, she is handing the reins over to a new generation of the Bush family.

"It's time for me to turn the foundation over to younger and wiser people," the 86-year-old told the sellout crowd of 1,800. 

"I'm not really going totally away, just as chairman. I may have a suggestion or two if I don't like the way things are going," she quipped in familiar style.

Barbara Bush couldn't resist occasionally covering her face with her hands at lyrics such as "You are the promised kiss of springtime." 

Since its founding, the non-profit has distributed more than $42 million to literacy programs across the country. On this evening, the Bush family efforts brought in $1.9 million.

Doro Bush Koch and Jeb Bush are taking over as co-chairs of the foundation. Maria and Neil Bush are stepping in to lead the Houston Celebration of Reading and they, along with Doro, were on stage with the former First Lady throughout her portion of the program. President George H.W. Bush remained in his front row seat.

The benefit evening featuring five authors and late-night dinner held a surprise for Barbara Bush, one not reluctant to make it known that she loathes surprises. But she took it in playful stride when Broadway singer George Dvorsky joined her on stage to serenade her in a medley of love songs. Though she couldn't resist occasionally covering her face with her hands at lyrics such as "You are the promised kiss of springtime" or "Just one look and then I knew. That all I longed for long ago was you."

Dvorsky had just completed his run as Daddy Warbucks in Theatre Under the Stars' production of Annie.

In a further nod to the changing of the guard, each of the authors was introduced by a Bush grandchild — Lauren Bush, George P. Bush, Amanda Bush, Ashley Bush and Pierce Bush.

Then it was down to the not-so-serious business of the author presentations. Harlan Coben, David Feherty, Sandra Brown and Blake Mycoskie had the audience rolling with their outlandish humor. Forget the traditional reading from their works. Each seemed more standup comedian than serious author and the audience loved it.

The final author, Donovan Campbell, a decorated U.S. Marine, read from his book Joker One and gave an impassioned patriotic talk. That segued nicely into the patriotic musical presentation by the University of Houston Chorale.

The grand finale of this fundraiser is always the Jackson & Co. cold supper served to half of the audience on stage and half in the lobby. The wine flows and the spirits are high as the Bush family and the authors spread out among the diners for the late-night repast.

The success of the evening is expected to continue full force with the Empower Events team remaining in place as event managers as they have been from the very start and with continuing assist from the former President's office. Ward & Ames will remain on hand as well to insure that the stage production for the Celebration of Reading is flawless.

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