First Lady remembered in cartoons

Posted 4/27/18

If you can't say anything nice about someone, then learn to draw and become an editorial cartoonist."Our job is to stick out our tongues, to show a big raspberry to whatever pompous jerk happens to …

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First Lady remembered in cartoons


If you can't say anything nice about someone, then learn to draw and become an editorial cartoonist.

"Our job is to stick out our tongues, to show a big raspberry to whatever pompous jerk happens to be mouthing off," Jeff MacNelly, whose cartoons earned him three Pulitzer Prizes, said in a 1991 interview with the Washingtonian. "And unlike my reporter colleagues, we get to break all the rules. We get to misquote, to slander, all that stuff. And just maybe, when the smoke clears, we come closer to the truth than they do."

However, even a depraved lot like cartoonists show a softer side when a newsmaker dies.

Since the passing of Barbara Bush on April 17, cartoonists have tried to sum up her life in a single sketch. One went with a broken string of her signature pearls. Another showed an angelic Mrs. Bush reading to four little angels accompanied by the caption "Barbara Bush 'Everybody's Grandmother.'"

The cartoon that generated the most attention showed Bush being greeted by her young daughter, Robin, shortly after entering the pearly gates.

Pauline Robinson "Robin" Bush was the second child born to Barbara and George H.W. Bush. She died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

In a 2016 interview with her granddaughter, Jenna Bush Hager, Barbara Bush described Robin as "a joy, like an angel to me. She's not a sadness or a sorrow."

Hager then shared something with her grandmother that George H.W. Bush had recently told her — when he died, he hoped that Robin would be the first person he saw.

"It is who he'll see first," Bush said in the no-nonsense way that was her trademark.

Shortly after Bush's death was announced, Marshall Ramsey of The Clarion-Ledger sat down at his drawing board.

While waiting for inspiration, he remembered a USA Today story from 2013 about former President Bush shaving his head to show support for a 2-year-old battling leukemia. The child's father is a member of Bush's Secret Service detail. 

The article noted that it had been 60 years since Bush had lost his own daughter to leukemia.

Ramsey, a parent himself who lost his father in 2016 and his mother in 2017, chose to make the reunion between Robin and her mother the focus of the cartoon.

Soon after it was released to the public, Hager shared it on her Instagram page. From there, it went viral.

Hager's cousion, Jeb Bush Jr., tweeted it. It was used by "The Today Show" and all major cable networks during the funeral coverage.

"Normally, I don't worry about how a politician reacts to one of my cartoons," Ramsey wrote in an article titled "How the Barbara Bush cartoon took on a life of its own."

"This is is different. It's special."

The day of the funeral, Ramsey tweeted, "I've been an editorial cartoonist for a long time. I've had cartoons that make people happy and angry. But the outpouring this week has been incredibly moving. I've conversed with great people who have powerful stories. That something I drew had this much effect blows me away."

The story of Ramsey's cartoon sent me in search of cartoons published following the deaths of other First Ladies.

Like Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan was famously devoted to her husband. One of the most poignant moments from Ronald Reagan's funeral in 2004 came when Nancy kissed and caressed his casket.

After her death in 2016, most cartoonists depicted the couple's emotional reunion. 

In one, Reagan was seen riding up to his sweetheart on a winged horse and greeting her with "Why, hello, little lady."

In another, the two were shown on a movie screen walking away hand in hand behind the words "The End." 

A few cartoonists couldn't pass up the opportunity to get in one final dig at Reagan's expense. "Let me straighten that for you, Ronnie," she said in one cartoon as she reached for her husband's crooked halo. I'm not sure the cartoonist intended to suggest that Reagan's halo was slipping as much as he wanted to remind people about the former first lady's overprotectiveness.  

Another cartoon had "Just Say No" inscribed on Reagan's tombstone while several needles, one labeled "Heroin Epidemic," were scattered on the ground above her grave.

Cartoons memorializing Lady Bird Johnson after her death in 2007 focused on her beautification efforts. 

The favorite of Johnson's grandson, Lyndon Nugent, showed one bluebonnet asking another if there are bluebonnets in heaven. The reply: "There will be now."

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.