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Mourners pay tribute to ‘America’s matriarch’ Barbara Bush

The former first lady died at her home in Texas on Tuesday aged 92.

Four former presidents joined hundreds of mourners at the private funeral of Barbara Bush hailed as the “first lady of the greatest generation”.

Historian Jon Meacham bestowed the title on Mrs Bush while speaking to the former presidents, ambassadors and mourners inside the nation’s largest Episcopal church during her funeral in Houston.

The former first lady, also known as “America’s matriarch”, died at her home on Tuesday aged 92.

Pallbearers carry the casket of former first lady Barbara Bush E (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle/AP Pool)

Mr Meacham recalled her quick wit and devotion to promoting literacy, bringing awareness to Aids patients and to her husband of 73 years.

Former President George H W Bush, the historian noted, was the “only boy she ever kissed”.

Mr Meacham, who wrote a 2015 biography on her husband, joined 1,500 people on a rainy day to honour the wife of the 41st president and the mother of the 43rd.

The funeral filled St Martin’s Episcopal Church a day after more than 6,000 people came through the church to pay their respects during a public viewing.

Her son, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, joked during his eulogy that his mother called her style of mothering him and his siblings “a benevolent dictatorship — but honestly it wasn’t always benevolent.” He emphasised how she believed in the power of laughter and that joy should be shared.

Former President George H W Bush shakes mourners hands at the funeral (Jack Gruber/AP)

His father was helped into the church in a wheelchair behind Jeb and his son former President George W Bush. He laughed as Mr Meacham and others recalled his wife’s wicked sense of humour.

Barbara Bush

A eulogy was also given by Susan Baker, wife of former Secretary of State James A Baker III, who said her long-time friend was “the secret sauce of this extraordinary family”.

Seated near the front of the church in the same pew were two other former presidents — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — along with their wives and current first lady Melania Trump.

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama greet first lady Melania Trump at the funeral service (David J Phillip/AP

Mrs Bush’s granddaughters delivered readings during the service and her grandsons served as pallbearers as the casket was later wheeled out of the church.

George H W Bush followed in his wheelchair, pushed by son George W Bush, shaking hands with those in the pews.

Flags were flown at half-mast as the service began as the choir sang “My Country Tis of Thee.” The church was adorned with sprays of yellow garden roses, yellow snap dragons, antique hydrangeas and other flowers.

President Donald Trump did not attend to avoid security disruptions and “out of respect for the Bush family and friends attending the service”, according to the White House.

A burial followed at the Bush Library at Texas University. The burial site is in a gated plot surrounded by trees and near a creek where the couple’s three-year-old daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953, is buried.

On Friday, a total of 6,231 people stopped by the church to pay their respects. Many of the women wore the former first lady’s favorite colour, blue, and trademark pearls.

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