In an evening filled with surprises, familial support and a substituting president, the 23rd annual Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation’s Celebration of Reading raised more than $2.2 million in support of the organization, as well as the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, and proved once again there’s no party like a Team Bush literacy party.
Though this year Barbara Bush did not take the stage to begin the proceedings, she was in the Hobby Center’s Sarofim Hall in more than just spirit, as she waved to the audience from her a front row seat, the perfect spot to view all the action and perhaps keep a watchful matriarchal eye on not one but two of her sons.
Yes, much to the astonishment and delight of the nearly 1,800 guests and Literacy Foundation supporters, when one of the headlining and best-selling authors, comedian Jim Gaffigan, had to back out at the last minute, former president George W. Bush agreed to attend and help out foundation chairs, Maria and Neil Bush.
The celebration began with a short but sweet and funny video of Maria and Neil Bush at home and in an argument over who should walk on stage first. They get advice from that fount of all emcee knowledge, Barbara Bush, yet only George H.W Bush knew the correct answer: let a coin toss decide.
Later in the evening when George W. Bush came out to read from the introduction of his book of his own paintings Portraits of Courage, he let it be known that their father was recovering nicely and was probably happily watching NCIS in his hospital room anyway. The 92-year-old former president is recuperating from a mild case of pneumonia at Houston Methodist Hospital and was surprised by a visit from his son, the nation's 43rd president, earlier in the day.
One of the unique charms of this 2017 celebration was the brotherly ribbing yet obvious affection between the Bush brothers on view, with Neil teasing George about his artistic exploits one minute and getting a bit teary-eyed at so much family togetherness the next.
As usual, the other outstanding highlights of the event were the renowned authors invited to speak and introduced by the younger generation of Bushes: Lauren Bush Lauren, Clemmie Pierce and Lizzie Andrews. Though he was added late to the lineup New York Times columnist, David Brooks won over the audience quickly by explaining he thinks of Houston as the city of love since he travels here so often to visit his fiancée. He also shared some thoughtful ideas from his latest book, The Road to Character, about what character means in our current cultural climate.
Best-selling mystery writer Sue Grafton probably garnered the most laughs of all the authors, with the exception of the self-deprecating George W. Bush, as she recounted her tumultuous, yet hilarious, ascent to become the queen of alphabet murder tales.
Not fictional and quite harrowing was the true-life story told by financier turned corruption hunter Bill Browder. Giving a short synopsis of his book Red Notice, Browder described how he went from making a fortune in Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union to being declared by Putin’s government a threat to national security after he set out to expose the rampant corruption in the largest Russian companies.
Just by telling their stories all the authors illustrated the importance literacy and how reading and writing allows us to better understand and succeed in the world.
The evening ended with great optimism as student performers from the Westfield Senior High School dazzled the audience with their rendition of “Brand New Day” from The Wiz.
Joining in on the celebration were Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation president, Julie Baker Finck, Gail and Greg Garland, Iris and Bill Griffiths, Don and Lori Wallett, Cal and Hannah McNair, Trish and Rock Morille, George and Annette Strake, Stephanie and Frank Tsuru, Betty Hrncir, Diane Lokey Farb, Alice and Keith Mosing and Ginger Blanton.