As the country says goodbye to former President George H.W. Bush this week, touching tributes have flooded the news. But one of the most moving testaments to the late war hero are the words he wrote about his beloved daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 when she was only three.
“[I like] to think of Robin as though she were a part, a living part, of our vital and energetic and wonderful family of men and Bar[bara],” Bush wrote to his mother in the summer of 1958, according to his book All The Best. “Bar and I wonder how long this will go on. We hope we will feel this genuine closeness when we are 83 and 82. Wouldn’t it be exciting at that age to have a beautiful 3 1/2 year-old daughter … she doesn’t grow up.”
Reflecting their love for their little girl, the 41st president will be buried next to his late wife of more than 70 years, Barbara Bush, who died in April, and Robin.
These arrangements are more than fitting, as the former president once explained that Barbara and Robin are two of the people he’d want to see in heaven.
Speaking to his granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager in a clip that aired as part of his farewell tribute on Today, the former president answered who he’d hope to encounter “first.”
“Barbara, probably go with her, I think my mom and my father,” Bush — who died at 94 last Friday — said, “and maybe Robin, our little girl that died.”
In his 1958 letter, Bush was poetic when writing about his love for Robin. He and Barbara were also the parents of four sons and another daughter: George W. (who became the 43rd president of the United States), John, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy.
“There is about our house a need. The running, pulsating restlessness of the four boys as they struggle to learn and grow; the world embraces them… all this wonder needs a counter-part,” Bush wrote. “We need some starched crisp frocks to go with all our torn-kneed blue jeans and helmets. We need some soft blonde hair to offset those crew cuts. We need a doll house to stand firm against our forts and rackets and thousand baseball cards …”
He continued: “We need someone who’s afraid of frogs … We need a little one who can kiss without leaving egg or jam or gum. We need a girl. We had one once — she’d fight and cry and play and make her way just like the rest. But there was about her a certain softness. She was patient — her hugs were just a little less wiggly …”
As Bush closed the letter, he revealed how close he remained to Robin in spirit.
” ‘My Daddy’ had a caress, a certain ownership which touched a slightly different spot than the ‘Hi, Dad’ I love so much,” he wrote. “But she is still with us. We need her and yet we have her. We can’t touch her, and yet we can feel her. We hope she’ll stay in our house for a long, long time. Love, Pop.”
For more on President Bush’s life, legacy and letters—including an exclusive emotional interview with his granddaughter Barbara—pick up the new issue of People on newsstands Friday
Bush will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Building Rotunda through Wednesday morning, before he is honored in a service at the National Cathedral.