Barbara Bush’s presidential moxie ran deep. She wasn’t just the wife and mother of a U.S. president; her father was a distant descendant of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States.

It would be easy to assume that surrounded as she was by presidents and governors and leaders of every sort, that she had big ambitions for her family.

But that’s not necessarily the impression I get.

The impression I get of Barbara Bush is that her ambition was simply for her family to be good and decent and upright people, serving their fellow man to the best of their ability. In fact, she was skeptical about both her sons’ chances of being elected governor (George in Texas, Jeb in Florida) and she famously said “we’ve had enough Bushes” in office when Jeb took a run for U.S. president in the last election. I get the impression that if her husband and children had never been elected to a single office, she wouldn’t have been disappointed in the least, and it wouldn’t have changed anything about who she was or how she lived her life.

Who she was wasn’t determined by the offices her ancestor or husband or children held. Barbara’s moxie was of the deeper and more permanent kind. In many ways, Barbara was a symbol of the moxie of the Greatest Generation, one that is rapidly fading into memory.

Forged in the fire of World War II, Barbara Bush and her generation of women were iron-willed wives and mothers, molding their families with the values they held dear. As their husbands defended American values abroad, they made those values worth defending on the homefront.

Jeb Bush credited his mother for being his first and best teacher. She laid the foundation for his future leadership, teaching him kindness and honesty in her famously no-nonsense manner.

“She called her style a benevolent dictatorship, but to be honest, she wasn’t always benevolent,” Jeb quipped.

Barbara Bush passed away last week, and the world paused to remember her. Here’s what I learned from her life and her moxie:

People with moxie are forthright.

Barbara Bush was famous for her one liners and quick wit. While her remarks occasionally raised eyebrows and even stirred controversy, she didn’t intentionally provoke. She simply spoke her mind.

People with moxie pick their battles.

Barbara wasn’t known for staking out positions on policy issues publicly, though she certainly had them and made them known to her family.

Instead, she focused her public efforts on literacy. An avid life-long reader, she championed the cause for decades, raising millions of dollars and much awareness.

She did not spend her capital on politics; she invested it in service. She knew what was important to her.

People with moxie aren’t shielded from tragedy.

Barbara was pregnant with her second child, a daughter named Pauline Robinson Bush, when her parents were involved in a horrific car crash that claimed the life of her mother. Barbara was unable to even travel to the funeral to say goodbye to her mother.

Just three years later, that same little daughter, known as Robin, succumbed to leukemia. It was during this time that Barbara’s hair faded to its trademark white. She dyed it for a time, but eventually embraced her prematurely snowy locks. They became her trademark, and bore silent testimony to the challenges she’d endured.

As we say goodbye to this American matriarch, what will you remember most about her, and the generation she represents?

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