There are only 12 women privileged to see their husbands and sons sworn-in as presidents. Interestingly, seven of them are from Africa. WALE ELEGBEDE writes on the depleting rank of these rare breed of women who are both first ladies and mothers of presidents
In the lifetime of any woman, it suffices to be the first lady of any country. But when you are opportuned to be a first lady and mother of a president at another time, it is an unusual privilege. Expectedly, that line of privilege is not an everyday occurrence; hence, only 12 women in the modern world have been able to achieve such feat.
Regardless of the side of the divide one may belong, there is no way credence can be subtracted from these women; they are exceptional and courageous in the service to their nations as first ladies in their heyday and also played diverse roles and source of encouragement to their sons.
Nothing could better underscore the prominence and influence these special breed of women command like the accolades and tributes that followed last week’s exit of Barbara Bush, wife of George W. Bush, who was the 41st President of the United States and mother of George Bush (jnr), the 43rd President, and Jeb Bush, the 43rd Governor of Florida.
Barbara, regarded as the matriarch of the Republican political dynasty of the former first family, died on April 17 at the age of 92 in her Houston home. She was the only second woman in American history to have had a husband and son elected President.
Other former first ladies and mothers of presidents who have passed on include: Ruth Williams Khama, wife of Botswana’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama, and mother of the immediate past president of the country, Ian Khama; Yuk Young-soo, wife of the 3rd South Korean president Park Chung-hee and the mother of the 11th South Korean president Park Geun-hye.
Abigail Adams is wife of former United States President, John Adams, as well as the mother of John Quincy Adams; Kamala Nehru, wife of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and mother of Indira, India’s former female prime minister; Adeline Akufo-Addo was the wife of former Ghana’s president and the mother of the incumbent, and Sushil Ramgoolam, wife of ex-Prime Minister of Mauritius, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and mother of Navin Ramgoolam, Mauritius former prime minister.
With seven down already, five others are still alive. Mama Ngina Kenyatta, who was married to former Kenyan president, Jomo Kenyatta, is the mother of the country’s current president, Uhuru Kenyatta; Sifa Mahanya is the wife of the former president of Democratic Republic of Congo, Desire Kabila and mother of Joseph Kabila.
Sena Sabine Mensah was the former first lady of Togo when her husband, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, was in the reins, and she was also the mother of the country’s president Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe. Mrs. Patience Dabany was Gabon’s first lady before her husband, President Omar Bongo, and her son, Ali Bongo, took over.
Wrapping up the list is Canada’s Margaret Trudeau, whose husband, Pierre Trudeau, was the country’s longest serving Prime Minister. Margaret’s son, Justin Trudeau, is the current Prime Minister of the country.
For these women, their daily lives and roles in tending and shaping characters of presidents are formidable. For their husbands, they are positioned to give support and advice, while they are also responsible for the special mother-son relationships that will help their wards perform well on the hot seat.
With the death of Barbara Bush, the circle of first ladies who are mothers of presidents is depleted. Whilst it is getting difficult to reincarnate the cycle in modern days given the various factors and influences at play, it may also be argued that with the increasing involvement of youths in politics and governance, it may not be too long when another wife and mother of president would emerge.
Born on June 8, 1925, Barbara was the wife of George H. W. Bush, who was the 41st President of the United States, and served as First Lady of the United States from 1989 to 1993. She had previously served as Second Lady of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Among her six children are George W. Bush, the 43rd President, and Jeb Bush, the 43rd Governor of Florida.
Born in New York City, Barbara met George Herbert Walker Bush at age 16, and the two married in Rye, New York, in 1945, while he was on leave during his deployment as a Naval officer in World War II. They moved to Midland, Texas, where he entered political life, in 1950.
For the first eight months of their marriage, the Bushes moved around the Eastern United States, to places including Michigan, Maryland, and Virginia, where George Bush’s Navy squadron training required his presence.
George and Barbara Bush had six children, who between them gave the couple a total of 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren
Barbara Bush defended her husband’s experience and personal qualities when he announced his candidacy for President of the United States in 1980. She caused a stir when she said that she supported ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and was pro-choice on abortion,
Family literacy was Barbara Bush’s cause as First Lady, and she called it “the most important issue we have”.She became involved with many literacy organizations, served on literacy committees and chaired many reading organizations. Eventually, she helped develop the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.
Bush was hospitalized with pneumonia on New Year’s Eve 2013 and was released from the hospital a few days later.
In April 2018, her family released a statement regarding her failing health, stating that she had chosen to be at home with family; desiring “comfort care” rather than further treatment. Bush died in her Houston home at the age of 92 on April 17, 2018. She had requested in her last wishes a modest funeral at the Gothic-style cathedral, where she and her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, were devoted members for decades.
She married Jomo Kenyatta in 1951, when she was only eight years, a union characterised as a “gift” to Kenyatta from his ethnic group, the Kikuyu. This became her reference as the “mother of the nation”, becoming Mama Ngina Kenyatta, independent Kenya’s glamorous First Lady when Kenyatta became President in 1963. She often accompanied him in public, and had some streets in Nairobi and Mombasa, as well as a Children’s Home, named after her. In 1965, she became patron of Kenyan Guiding
She was his fourth wife. She stood by her husband during the turbulent times that preceded Kenya gaining her independence. She was once arrested and detained at Kamiti Maximum prison for her involvement in Jomo Kenyatta. Despite her glamour and high fashion sense, her husband never allowed her to wear trousers, he preferred her to remain traditional and dress in a manner that suited her status as first lady.
Mama Ngina became a Roman Catholic, and was known to attend Mass every Sunday in the Catholic mission with some of their children. She also became one of the richest individuals in Kenya, owning plantations, ranches, and hotels.
She bore Kenyatta four children: Kristina Wambui (born 1953), Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta (born 1961), Anna Nyokabi Muthama née Kenyatta (also known as Jeni, born May 1963) and Muhoho Kenyatta (born 1965). Her son Uhuru, the senior Kenyatta’s political heir, unsuccessfully ran for president as President Moi’s preferred successor in 2002 and is today the Kenyan fourth President. Muhoho Kenyatta runs the family’s vast business but lives out of the public limelight. During Jomo Kenyatta’s exile at Lodwar and Maralal, Ngina stayed with him, as did their daughters, Jane and Wamboi. Mama Ngina is step-mother to Kenyatta’s other three children, two by his first wife and one by the second. She currently leads a quiet life in Kenya as a wealthy widow.
Sena Sabine Mensah
She is the mother of the current president of Togo, Faure Eyadema, who has been president since 2005. He became president after his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, passed away in 2005. The 51-year-old president has not however had it that rosy as critics are seeking an end to his family’s over 50-year grip on power. Recently, a group of women called on his mother, Sabine Mensah to convince her son to listen to the concerns of the people and relinquish power. She was instrumental to the quality of education her son, Gnassingbé, received. He studied in Paris and obtained Master of Business Admnistration degree from the George Washington University, USA.
She was wife of Ghana’s Second Republic president, the late Justice Edward Akufo-Addo. The late Mrs Akufo-Addo who died in 2004 had four children, including the current president of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo.
During the 10th anniversary of his late mother, Akufo-Addo said that she always encouraged them to succeed no matter what in her often-stated principle: “if you first try and don’t succeed, try, try and try again.”
Mrs. Akufo-Addo was very active in the historical developments that led to Ghana’s independence, including the formation of the UGCC, the 1948 riots, the arrest of the ‘Big Six’, among other stormy events of the 1950s.
She was the wife of the former leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo Laurent Désiré Kabila before her son assumed power in 2001 after the assassination of his father. Her son, Joseph Kabila was supposed to leave office in December 2016 when his second and last term ended, but the electoral commission postponed the presidential election citing the lack of resources to conduct a free, fair and credible poll.
Ruth Williams Khama
Ruth Williams Khama, popularly known as Lady Khama, born in 1923, was the wife of Botswana’s first president Sir Seretse Khama. She served as the inaugural First Lady of Botswana from 1966 to 1980. was born Ruth Williams in Meadowcourt Road, Blackheath in south London
In June 1947, at a dance at Nutford House organised by the London Missionary Society, her sister introduced her to the then Prince Seretse Khama. He was the son of the paramount chief Sekgoma II of the Bamangwato people, and was studying law at Inner Temple in London after a year at Balliol College, Oxford. The couple were both fans of jazz music, particularly The Ink Spots, and quickly fell in love. Their plans to marry caused controversy both with the tribal elders in Bechuanaland and the government of South Africa, he British government intervened in an attempt to stop the marriage.
Khama and her husband had four children. Their first child Jacqueline was born in Bechuanaland in 1950, shortly after Seretse was exiled. Their first son Ian was born in England in 1953, and twins Anthony and Tshekedi were born in Bechuanaland in 1958 (Anthony was named after Tony Benn, then known as Anthony Wedgwood Benn, who supported their return from exile in the early 1950s). She remained in Botswana after her husband’s death in office in 1980, receiving recognition as “Mohumagadi Mma Kgosi” (mother of the chief, or queen mother).
Two of their sons, Ian and Tshekedi, have become prominent politicians in Botswana. Ian Khama was elected as the President of Botswana in 2008. Khama died of throat cancer in Gaborone at the age of 78, survived by her four children. She was buried in Botswana next to her husband
Sushil Ramjoorawon, commonly known as Lady Sushil Ramgoolam) was the wife of the late Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, father of the nation and ex-Prime Minister of Mauritius (1968-1982) . She was First Lady of Mauritius while her husband was in office of Governor General and Prime Minister of Mauritius. Her son Navin Ramgoolam has also been Prime Minister of Mauritius (1995-2000, 2005-2014).
Sushil was the eldest daughter of Thacoordial and Anjanee Ramjoorawon. She had five sisters and two brothers. In, 1939, at the age of 17, she married Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. They had a daughter, Sunita (now Mrs. Joypaul) and a son, Navin(chandra), who has been elected Prime Minister of Mauritius three times. She was married to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam for 46 years. On January 5, 1984, just after the new year celebrations, Lady Sushil died at the age of 61 at State House, Le Réduit and was given a state funeral.
In memory of Lady Sushil Ramgoolam, various public places such as a college in Triolet, a social welfare complex in Bel Air Rivière Sèche, a recreational center in Pointe Aux Piments and a Medi-Clinic in Flacq bear the name of Lady Sushil Ramgoolam, among others.
Kamala Kaul Nehru
She was a freedom fighter and the wife of Jawaharlal Nehru of the first Prime Minister of India. Her daughter, Indira, also served later as prime minister of India.
Kamala was born on 1 August 1899 to Rajeshwari and Atul Kaul, in a middle-class Kashmiri Pandit family of old Delhi. She was the eldest child and had two brothers, Chand Bahadur Kaul and the botanist, Kailas Nath Kaul, and a sister, Swaroop Kathju. She was homeschooled under the guidance of a Pandit and a Maulv
She married Jawaharlal Nehru at the age of 17. Her husband went to a trip in the Himalayas shortly after their marriage. In his autobiography, Jawaharlal Nehru, referring to his wife, stated “I almost overlooked her.” Kamala gave birth to a girl child in November 1917, Indira Priyadarshini, who later succeeded her father as prime minister and head of the Congress party. Kamala gave birth to a boy in November 1924, but he lived for only a week.
Kamala died from tuberculosis in Lausanne, Switzerland on 28 February 1936, with her husband, daughter and mother-in-law by her side. During her last few years, Kamala was frequently ill and taken to a sanatorium in Switzerland for treatment, though she returned to India as she got well.
She was the wife of the 3rd South Korean president Park Chung-hee and the mother of the 11th South Korean president Park Geun-hye. She was killed in 1974 during an attempted assassination of her husband, Park Chung-hee.
Yuk was born in Okcheon County, Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea in 1925, the second of three daughters of a prosperous self-made landlord.
In August 1950 she met Park Chung-hee through a relative who was serving under Park. On 12 December 1950 she married Park Chung-hee. While her mother supported her choice of husband, Yuk’s father was against the match, so she married without his blessing.
At 10:23 a.m., 15 August 1974,South Korean Independence Day, Yuk was shot and killed by Mun Se-gwang, a Zainichi Korean and North Korean sympathizer, during an attempt by Mun to assassinate President Park Chung-hee.
Margaret Joan Trudeau
She is the former wife of Pierre Trudeau, 15th Prime Minister of Canada; they divorced in 1984, during his final months in office. She is the mother of Justin Trudeau, who has been the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada since 2015
As an 18-year-old vacationing in Tahiti with her family, she met Pierre Trudeau, who was then Minister of Justice. Sinclair did not recognize him, and she in fact thought little of their encounter, but Trudeau was captivated by the carefree “flower child”, nearly thirty years younger than he, and began to pursue her.
Pierre Trudeau was still a bachelor when he became Prime Minister in 1968. They had kept their romance private, so Canada was shocked when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation led its morning radio broadcast about Prime Minister Trudeau honeymooning at Alta Lake, British Columbia at the foot of Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort the day after a surprise wedding in North Vancouver, British Columbia on March 4, 1971
As Pierre Trudeau was a Catholic, she converted to Roman Catholicism for their marriage. She would in later life study Buddhism although she now considers herself an Anglican. Asked about her role in a marriage to the prime minister, Trudeau said, “I want to be more than a rose in my husband’s lapel.”
On October 19, 2015, her eldest son, Justin Trudeau, led the Liberal Party to a majority government, becoming the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada. During the campaign, she was involved, but avoided campaigning in public as the Harper campaign’s main attack line against Justin was “Just Not Ready” and feared they would suggest her son was “so unready he needs his mummy.”
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