The Silver Fox

And now for something completely different: a down-to-earth First Lady

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Living over the store as First Couple, the two will once again be spending a lot of time together. Barbara will not have to find a cause since she already has so many, in part as a result of events in her own life. Her son Neil's dyslexia first got her interested in fighting illiteracy. In 1984 she wrote a book, C. Fred's Story, a surprisingly wry look at Washington life as told by her first dog, after publisher Nelson Doubleday assured her it would be a good way to promote her literacy efforts. C. Fred could have been a disaster, but Barbara's wit and candor made it work. "I didn't have to squeeze it out of her. There was no ghostwriter," says editor Lisa Drew. "And it came in on time." The book sold 15,000 copies; Barbara donated her share of the profits to literacy charities.

Robin's leukemia got Barbara involved in medical activities. She has been on the board of Atlanta's Morehouse School of Medicine since 1983, and she spearheaded a $15 million fund-raising drive there. Years ago, quietly, Barbara befriended a woman at a Washington hospice and went to see her every week for several years until she died. She went to Atlanta during a spate of murders of children to comfort the grieving mothers. For more than 30 years, she has visited cancer wards at Christmastime to play with children -- her way of honoring Robin.

Barbara will probably never sit in on Cabinet meetings a la Rosalynn Carter or get people fired, as Nancy did. But a spousal "Dear, I wouldn't do that if I were you," delivered with a raised eyebrow, can often defeat a stack of position papers. During Bush's postelection vacation, he was asked whether he had received any advice about his new job. He smiled broadly and pointed to his wife, standing nearby in tennis shoes and sweats. Barbara raised her eyebrows and said, "Just kidding." Replied Bush: "No, she's not."

Long before President Bush begins his official day by conferring with top aides or national-security advisers, he will already have had his first briefing of the day -- in bed. Each morning, as they have for years, the Bushes awake to country music early -- about "5 and change," says Marvin -- and take coffee, juice and the papers in bed while they watch the news shows. Together they discuss the hot news of the day, and she weighs in on everything from policy to personnel. "He clears his mind by talking to her," said one aide who knows them both. "It helps him."

Barbara has been most influential on issues that concern her deeply or where her husband is behind the curve, like AIDS, the homeless, civil rights and education. In the late 1950s, she battled segregationist innkeepers who refused to let the family's black baby-sitter stay with them in the same hotel. She was instrumental in the appointment of the only black in Bush's Cabinet, Dr. Louis Sullivan, whom she came to know from her work at Morehouse.

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