9002 Mercato Drive, US 41 and Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Laura Bush may no longer be in the spotlight, but she can still draw a crowd.
More than 350 turned out for Bush’s book signing at Books-a-Million at The Mercato in North Naples Wednesday morning, while more than 3,000 people attended the former first lady’s lecture at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero later in the day.
Bush was the first speaker of the newly launched President’s Lecture Series at the university.
“I think she was terrific,” said Bonita Springs resident Joseph Spiotta, 70. “Her speech was excellent. It was well put together.”
Through anecdotes, jokes and reflections former first lady Laura Bush took the audience through the eight years her husband former President George W. Bush served in the White House and how her role as First Lady evolved during that time.
Recalling with a mischievous grin how some tried to peg her as the quintessential 1950’s housewife, Bush told the audience how she finally answered when asked ‘What kind of First Lady she would be- Hillary Clinton or Barbara Bush?
“I’m going to be Laura Bush. I know her well,” she said.
When President Bush took office, Bush said she continued to work on two issues dear to her heart- child literacy and education.
“I believe every child in America should learn to read,” said Bush, who was involved in literacy initiatives in Texas while her husband was governor. “I believe that literacy is the foundation for democracy.”
That’s how she found herself on the way to senate hearing on early childhood education on the morning of Sept. 11.
Bush recalled sitting in the office of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy as the Twin Towers fell, and how Kennedy tried to reassure her in the midst of the tragedy.
That night, Bush said she finally got to see her husband in a sparse bunker under the White House that seemed to have been decorated during the Truman era.
But that moment of relief at the knowledge that they were okay was quickly overshadowed, she said.
“All we could think of were the thousands of Americans that could not say the same,” said Bush.
Soon after Sept. 11, Bush said she took on another personal cause when she found herself doing a radio address on the mistreatment of women in Afghanistan.
Since then, Bush has taken the fight for women’s issues from the Middle East to Africa and Latin America.
Bush said that the importance of women’s rights and the work that she and others have done for the cause was brought home her after speaking with a woman in the Middle East.
“She said ‘I’m only one woman. But together, we are a force to be reckoned,’” Bush recalled.
Bush also remains actively involved other issues of national and global concern, including health care.
And although hundreds of VIP’s had great seats on the floor section of the arena, FGCU junior Lenise Joseph said she felt she not only lucked out in getting a pair of tickets but that she also got some of the best seats in the house — two seats in the second row of the bleachers next to the stage where Bush gave her speech.
“I wanted to see the former First Lady Laura Bush,” said Joseph, 20, who attended Wednesday’s event with her friend, Michael Martin, who is a freshman at Edison College.
Joseph said that FGCU students, faculty and staff got first dibs on tickets, but that she didn’t expect to get to see the former First Lady so close.
FGCU President Wilson G. Bradshaw said he was glad Bush was the first speaker of the revived series, which has previously brought poet Maya Angelou, former Soviet statesman Mikhail Gorbachev and former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell.”
Earlier in the day, security inside Books A Million was tight when Bush showed up in North Naples to sign copies of her book, “Spoken from the Heart.”
While Bush did not including personal messages with her signature, attendees got the opportunity to say hello as she signed copies her book.
“I just told her thanks for coming to little old Naples,” said Margot Kenzie. “It’s nice to have someone like that come to our little town.”
While Bush’s husband is known for his politics, Kenzie said the draw for her was that she could relate to the former first lady as a mother of two sets of twins. Bush has twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara.
“What I like about her is whether you’re Republican or Democrat she’s just an accomplished person and a dear lady,” Kenzie said.