Despite her grandmotherly public demeanor, Mrs. Bush's family and close friends were familiar with her sharper side.
George W. Bush noted in his post-presidency book, "Decision Points," that he inherited a quick, blunt temper from his mother. His wife, Laura, said her mother-in-law "managed to insult nearly all of my friends with one or another perfectly timed acerbic comment."
On the other hand, her wit could be disarming. In 1990, scores of students at Wellesley College had signed a petition protesting her selection as commencement speaker. They complained that as a housewife, she was a poor role model to be honored by the women's college.
But Mrs. Bush appeared at the commencement, sharing the podium with Soviet first lady Raisa Gorbachev, who had been a college professor.
"Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president's spouse," Mrs. Bush told the graduates. "I wish him well!"
Mrs. Bush usually kept her sarcasm under wraps, though one noted slip came in 1984 when her husband was running for re-election as vice president with Reagan.
During the heat of the campaign, Democratic challengers Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro questioned whether wealthy people like the Bushes could relate to average Americans.
An irritated Mrs. Bush told a reporter that Ferraro was a "$4 million — I can't say it — but it rhymes with rich."
Mrs. Bush later said she meant "witch" and apologized, and Ferraro accepted the apology.
"She was an unvarnished purveyor of the truth and motivated us all to be better people," Andrew Card, who was her husband's Transportation secretary and her son's chief of staff, told The New York Times. "And she was also contagious with love."
Indeed. In a brief comment to the spring 2018 Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Mrs. Bush wrote: "I am still old and still in love with the man I married 72 years ago."
"My dear mother has passed on at age 92. Laura, Barbara, Jenna, and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was," Bush 43 said in a statement, referring to his wife and twin daughters. "Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions. To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I'm a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother. Our family will miss her dearly, and we thank you all for your prayers and good wishes."
— The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.
Correction: An earlier version misstated where Barbara Bush met her future husband.