The Bushes returned home to Houston after Jimmy Carter’s victory in the 1976 election, whereupon Mr. Bush quietly assembled a team and prepared to mount his 1980 candidacy for the presidency. He eventually fell short, accepted Ronald Reagan’s offer as running mate, and was sworn in as the 43rd Vice President of the United States on January 20, 1981.

Despite the demands and visibility of being First Lady, Mrs. Bush called her eight years as wife of the Vice President – from 1981 to 1989 – “the busiest of my life.” In all, she spent 1,629 days and 1.3 million miles traveling away from Washington. While in the Nation’s Capital, she hosted 1,192 events and attended another 1,232 events during the same span. She engaged a broad range of issues and causes including libraries, food banks, the Ronald McDonald House, the elderly, the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and the Peace Corps.

Barbara Bush was jogging on a hot summer day in Houston's Memorial Park in 1978 when she got to thinking about her husband's first presidential campaign, and what that could mean for her. If he was elected, she knew she wanted to have a positive impact on the lives of her fellow Americans, but of all the causes she contemplated she kept coming back to literacy. Inspired by business leaders, public officials, and other literacy advocates across the country, Mrs. Bush quickly came to believe that, in her words, “if more people could read or write, we could be much closer to solving so many other problems that our country faces.” Furthermore, she recognized the vital importance of family literacy – ensuring literacy programs were accessible to help struggling parents and children so they would have an equal chance to succeed in life.

Her literacy advocacy gradually expanded with her public profile. She unveiled billboards, visited Head Start and Even Start classes, supported alternative school programs for at-risk students like Cities in Schools, wrote dozens of articles, and participated in a variety of media programs to raise awareness of the basic need for every citizen to be able to read. In 1984, Mrs. Bush also published C. Fred’s Story: A Dog’s Life, which raised $100,000 for Literacy Volunteers of America and Laubach Literacy Action.

"We encouraged all sorts of literacy programs," she recalled of those vice presidential years in A Memoir. "We visited senior citizens' homes with reading classes. We supported English as a Second Language programs for immigrants who wanted to learn ... We encouraged programs that worked with mothers who had dropped out of school. We tried to help programs that taught new mothers not only parenting skills but the importance of reading to their children."

During her husband's vice presidency, she participated in 537 literacy-related events and another 435 events related to volunteerism. "At times it was exhausting but it was always exhilarating. I always felt like I got more out than I put in," she later wrote.