The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 25, 2007

Mrs. Bush's Remarks in a Question and Answer Session with Mary Jo West at the Sandra Day O'Connor Awards Luncheon
Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa
Phoenix, Arizona

12:09 P.M. MST

Q Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Mary Jo West, and back in 1976, before some of you were even born, I had the privilege of becoming this city's first anchorwoman. And I want to thank the Arizona Foundation for Women for the gift today of having the opportunity to interview our First Lady. And we wanted to present to you, that you can take with you later, Mrs. Bush, the special award that you will be able to put on your mantel or bedside or wherever.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much.

Q Speaking of your bedside table, we wanted to start the interview today with a light question, because you were talking about Justice O'Connor and reading. And we want to know what book is by your bedside right now, and tell us about your summer reading list.

MRS. BUSH: Well, today, the book that I'm reading right now is Khaled Hosseini's new book. He was the writer that wrote The Kite Runner. I don't know if all of you have read that. I hope you do read it. But anyway, now he has a new book called A Thousand Suns, I think is the name of it. But it's about women this time. The Kite Runner was about boys and men in Afghanistan, and this is a book about women, and really pretty brutal in a lot of parts, about the way women in Afghanistan were treated under the Taliban.

So he's a great writer that I really like to read. He came to the National Book Festival last year, was one of our readers, that the Library of Congress hosts with me, the National Book Festival.

And then I have some others that I want to read over the summer. The President has read a lot of history and he's read all these great books by David McCullough and other writers like that about very important people in our country, and I haven't. So I think I'm going to start those this summer. I think I'm going to read some of those new books about our founding fathers.

Q Well, Mrs. Bush, Oprah has her book list. Maybe you could start yours on your website.

MRS. BUSH: Well, I do, I have a book list on my website. (Laughter.)

Q All right. That's good to know. Let me ask you this. We want to lead into this by you telling us about the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries. What inspired you to start this foundation?

MRS. BUSH: Well, of course, I'm a librarian, so I'm always interested in libraries. But in 1999 and 2000, when I was traveling during the campaign, I visited a lot of schools, and I saw a lot of really poorly stocked school libraries. And of course, usually those were in the neighborhoods where children probably didn't have very many books of their own.

So after George was elected, I decided I would start a foundation to give specifically to school libraries -- not public libraries, but school libraries, because I think they're very important.

And so we've given to I think well over 600 schools in the United States by now. And we were just about to disband our fundraising arm when Hurricane Katrina hit. We'd reached our goal, we'd raised the amount of money we wanted to raise. And so then the committee, the fundraisers, decided to just raise cash for cash -- whatever we can raise we can give away, we will give away, in big grants -- $50,000 to $150,000, which is what it costs to stock a whole elementary school or secondary school library.

So we've given to 42 schools on the Gulf Coast so far. And these are big grants, and these are really tough people that have rebuilt their schools and ready to stock their libraries. School people are always really tough, and when you think about all of these teachers and principals and school superintendents who have had to build whole school districts at once, as fast as they can, rebuild them, and, not only that, many of them live in FEMA trailers themselves, because they lost everything.

So that's been fun. It's been fun to go to the Gulf Coast and to see these new libraries that are totally stocked with books.

Arizona, by the way, a number of schools in Arizona have received grants, as well, of course. We've given in every state.

Q Wonderful. Thank you so much. Well, each of you out there, if you had a chance to come up here and talk with Mrs. Bush, could tell your story of what person inspired you the most to help you enter the vocation of your choice. And we would love to hear your story about who inspired you to be a teacher.

MRS. BUSH: Well, probably it was really my mother, who loved to read and read to me a lot. But I loved my second grade teacher, Ms. Gnagy. She still lives in Midland, I still see her when I go there. And she just had that ability to make kids think they were the pet, that they were the teacher's pet. I'm sure everyone in the room thought that, but I was sure I was. (Laughter.) And I loved her for it, and I wanted to be just like her. So I really made the decision to be an educator when I was in the second grade -- not that mature of a decision, but it was what I really wanted and what I really loved doing.

Q What are some of the other initiatives that you are so proud of during this wonderful time for you? And there are many months left, and what's going to be in the future?

MRS. BUSH: Well, one initiative that I've worked on that I think is interesting for a group of women is I've done a lot of things with women in Afghanistan and in the Middle East. This week I hosted a group at the White House of women from Syria, Lebanon, Palestinian women, Egypt, Morocco -- a big group of women from the Middle East who are being mentored by American businesswomen that are in the same profession that these women are in. And that was very interesting and fun.

There's a great program here at Thunderbird. And Barbara Barrett, actually, I think is in the room. She started this program at Thunderbird that brings Afghan women, businesswomen in to train them so they can go back home and succeed in their businesses. And they've had two classes of Afghan women that have come here and studied very hard and lived in the dorms at Thunderbird and have gone home and have been very, very successful.

So those are fun issues to work on, I think. I've really liked having the opportunity to work with women around the world, and I've met women everywhere I go. In nearly every country we visit I make a -- have at least one luncheon or one dinner with women from that country and women leaders. And you know what I found out? We all want the same thing. We want to be educated. We want to live a peaceful life. We want to have children who are educated and healthy and safe. We want to realize our dreams. And I see that everywhere. (Applause.)

Q Along those same lines, you talk to women from around the world. Well, there are also, if you've noticed, there are more women who are becoming heads of countries, which is very exciting. And what kind of policies do you think are going to change in the future with women leaders?

MRS. BUSH: Well, that's a very interesting question. I was honored to represent the United States at the inauguration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the new President of Liberia. And I don't know if you know the history of Liberia, but Liberia was founded by freed slaves from the United States. And in fact, in the program, the inaugural program, there was a list of all the presidents of Liberia, and the first seven or eight were born in Kentucky or Virginia or other states in the U.S.

But anyway, Liberia had been a very successful country but had had some -- in recent years a very terrible civil war and government. And the U.S., you may not know it, but we were the ones that really stayed there. We stayed there in Liberia, we kept our embassy there. We were about one of the only countries during this time of violence and civil war that kept an embassy there and ambassador there, with the hope of helping Liberia rebuild.

And so now, fortunately, after a good, free election, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected. She'd been jailed earlier in Liberia because of the dictators that were there before. And then she had worked for the World Bank, she'd lived in the United States, she has grandchildren who live in the United States now.

But anyway, I see -- and I still see her. I got to go to her inauguration, but when she comes to the United States, I have lunch with her or get to meet with her with the President. And I see from her -- the way she relates in her country is sort of as a mother. And this -- of course, it's an African country and a society that values the way mothers are and how mothers take care of people. And so I think there are going to be some feminine traits, I think, in our women leaders around the world, and I think that's great.

Q Well, Mrs. Bush, I know that you don't have to worry about keeping track of frequent flier miles, but if you could, can you imagine how many she would have? And I understand that next month you are going to yet another country -- continent, rather -- and do some wonderful things in line with what you just told us.

MRS. BUSH: I'm going to go to Africa at the end of next month to four countries in Africa. And what I usually do when I visit African countries is visit programs that are funded in some part by the people of the United States. And they might be a program like Rick Warren's Saddleback Church that has some very, very wonderful programs going on in Africa, or they might be programs that are funded through USAID and our government. And I don't think the American people really know how generous the United States is worldwide. And many, many projects that are -- treatment of AIDS, for instance, and malaria, are funded and really organized by the United States, by both our government and our NGOs, as they call them, our various charities and organizations that work worldwide.

So I get the opportunity to go see how successful those programs are. One that I visited before in South Africa is called Mothers to Mothers, and it is an opportunity for women to get tested when they're pregnant to see if they're HIV-positive, and if they are, to immediately go on the medications that you can take to make sure your baby is HIV-free when your baby is born. And then these women have jobs, and they mentor the next mothers. It's a really wonderful group.

But anyway, some of those mothers came to the United States, and they went around, they had quite a busy schedule, and talked about what they were doing. And now people in the United States, in Washington and Philadelphia, are doing what they're doing, copying them. And I know that made them feel great.

Q We'll be following your trip with very special interest.

MRS. BUSH: Let me just say one thing about the frequent flier miles, though. (Laughter.) Today, you would have thought that my bags would have made it. (Laughter.) But they didn't. So, since it's such a long flight from Washington, I'd worn very comfortable clothes that you would have thought that I thought everyone in Arizona really was very casually dressed always, if I'd worn what I had. But instead, one car in the motorcade stopped at a shopping center and rushed out with this new outfit. (Laughter and applause.)

Q I guess you're not allowed to do a commercial, but I'm dying to find out what store that is. (Laughter.)

We have time for just one more question. I'm going to put on my glasses, just because I want to make sure I get the statistics right, because it's so exciting. The National Institutes for Health gives you, Mrs. Bush, gives you credit among women by increasing awareness among these women from 35 percent to 57 percent that heart disease is their number-one killer, and you have become their ambassador of a program called Heart Truth Campaign. We want to end our talk today -- because we need some advice from you. You look fabulous, and we want to know what you're doing to stay healthy, and what advice you can give us women and men, and those of us especially who have daughters, what advice would you give us?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I know -- I hope that everyone in this room does know that heart disease is the leading cause of death among American men and women. I didn't know that. I was surprised when the National -- our Lung and Blood Institute called me and said would you want to be a part of the Heart Truth Campaign to get the message out to women that heart disease is their leading cause of death.

And more women than men die of heart disease every year, and part of the reason is because women think of a heart attack as a man's disease. And so even when they start to suffer these symptoms of a heart attack, they don't go directly to the emergency room. They just think, oh, I think I'll go lie down and I'm sure I'll feel better. And in fact, the symptoms that women might have are different from what men have. Women might not have the crushing chest pain that we see on television when someone has a heart attack, or that sort of symptom, and in fact could have extreme fatigue or a pain in the jaw or the next or a burning sensation in the back -- all things that women think, especially fatigue, well, I'm busy and I'm tired. (Laughter.)

So we have gotten the message out. More women now know, which means more women are getting to the hospital faster, and numbers of heart attack victims decreased in the last year, because women now know.

But it wasn't just only educating women, it was also educating doctors who also thought of heart attacks as a man's disease. And I went to Kansas City for one of the very first Heart Truth events and spoke at a hospital. And a woman heard me on television that night, and she had been to her doctor two days before because she said she didn't feel well, but he thought she was fine and he sent her home. And she got in bed and then she woke up and she said, I'm having those symptoms that Mrs. Bush talked about on television today. And she woke up her husband and they rushed to the hospital, and she was having a heart attack.

So she wrote me to tell me that I saved her life. But so then she started speaking at churches in Kansas City, all the different churches. And now she's been written by friends and people that she saved their life. I think that's really such a great story. (Applause.)

But obviously, we all know what it takes to be healthy. We know for sure -- for heart disease, which is preventable, you can prevent it if you know what your blood cholesterol level is and what your blood pressure is and treat those if they're high. Obviously, everyone knows no smoking, get exercise -- physical activity is very important -- and a healthy diet. And so if you know your risk factors, then you can do some things to change your lifestyle. And that is a very, very good example for your children, too.

Q And we know if you have time to exercise, then we have time to exercise. (Laughter.)

Well, on behalf of the Arizona Foundation for Women, we are so honored and blessed that you came today to accept this wonderful Sandra Day O'Connor Award. Caryll Kyl, thank you for helping to get her here. And it's time to go.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much.

Q There are people waiting for you. And congratulations again. (Applause.)

MRS. BUSH: Thanks so much, Mary Jo. I appreciate it very much, and thank you very much for this. Thanks, everybody. Thank you all. Thank you for the wonderful award. (Applause.)

END 12:26 P.M. MST

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