Columba Bush: Columba Garnica Gallo was born in the community of Arperos, in the city of León, Guanajuato, Mexico, the daughter of José María Garnica Rodríguez (1925–2013), a migrant worker and waiter from Arperos, Guanajuato, and Josefina Gallo Esquivel (born 1920), from León, who were married on February 1949. Columba’s father abandoned the family in 1956 when she was 3 years old and her parents divorced in 1963. Following the departure of her father, Columba and her mother remained in León.
Garnica attended Instituto Antonia Mayllen, a private Catholic school in the historic center of León. She met Jeb Bush in 1970 in León when she was 16 years old and he was 17. Bush was teaching English as a second language and assisting in the building of a school in the small nearby village of Ibarrilla as part of a class at Andover called Man and Society.
Garnica married Bush on February 23, 1974, in Austin, Texas at the chapel in the Catholic student center on the campus of the University of Texas. At the time of the wedding, she did not speak English and a part of the wedding ceremony was conducted in Spanish.
Vivian Alexandra Columba Bush
“She had the most limited role of any spouse I’ve ever worked with,” a strategist on Jeb’s 2002 reelection campaign told me. Columba would participate in events now and again, but everyone understood that a public role “was not in her comfort zone.” Her influence was felt on the campaign mostly because members of the staff knew that they often had to make sure Jeb ended his days early enough to be home for dinner. Those who know her well paint her as the anti–Claire Underwood, the political spouse on House of Cards. You could also describe her as the anti–Bill Clinton, her possible counterpart in next year’s general election. “She is not somebody who is reading any political reporting or interested in being in the room to strategize tactics. She is completely uninterested in that,” says Jim Towey, a friend of the couple’s who served in George W. Bush’s administration. “In politics you get a lot of clone people. And she is so not the clone.”Who she is is a harder question, due in part to her reluctance to develop a public persona or talk to the press. (She wouldn’t talk to me, even with campaign season heating up, although Jeb and I corresponded.) Bush loyalists bristle at the idea that Columba would have trouble fitting into the role of first lady in the White House. One scolded me that the press was just being “stupid” and “lazy” by saying that she hates public life and failing to recognize all the causes she has taken up over the past 15 or so years.It’s true that she has adopted first-lady-worthy causes, working with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, and Arts for Life, a group that gives scholarships to young artists. By all accounts, she advocates earnestly and effectively, visiting shelters, studying reports on addiction in adolescence, putting together exhibitions, and connecting donors with charities. Everyone I interviewed who’s worked with her says she doesn’t seek the limelight, nor even any recognition for her actions—which is admirable. It’s admirable, too, that she’s been able to remain, well, normal, despite her marriage into such a high-powered political clan. But as a modern first lady, she’ll be expected to come out from behind the scenes. And whether she likes it or not, what she does and how she feels will affect her husband as a person and as a candidate—and that interplay will be endlessly dissected.These days, Columba’s distaste for public life, historically a source of volatility for Jeb, is being reframed as a balm. “What he loves about Columba is that she’s an emotional anchor for him,” Ana Navarro, a family friend and a Republican strategist, told me. “She lives outside the political bubble and brings his focus back to the really important things in life, like family and friends and faith.”“Everyone seeks emotional refuge,” Al Cardenas, another family friend and a former head of the Florida Republican Party, told me. “And that’s what she provides. She brings sanity into a world filled with politics.” But even Cardenas seemed to sense that it can be hard to conceive of them as a couple, like Bill and Hillary or Brad and Angelina, because she’s so absent from the publicly visible parts of Jeb’s world. So at the end of our conversation, he felt the need to make it explicit to me, about Jeb’s wife of 41 years: “Look, he loves her unconditionally. She is a major, integral part of his life.”
Columba Bush Young
At an event in Nevada this March, one of his first speeches of this campaign season, before a crowd of what The Washington Post called “everyday Americans,” Bush opened with a husband-still-in-thrall routine. His life, he said, can be divided into two parts: “b.c. and a.c.—before Columba and after Columba,” referring to Columba Garnica de Gallo, the woman he fell madly in love with while on a high-school trip to Mexico and then married 41 years ago.
The crowd, full of seniors and some Spanish speakers, awwwed and cheered. Columba herself was not in attendance. Perhaps because he hadn’t officially declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, she felt no hurry to claim her title as candidate’s wife.
Friends of the Bush family to this day tell stories of Jeb and Columba’s deep and obvious affection for each other. And yet by any straightforward measure of compatibility—family background, interests, personality, ideas about a pleasant way to spend an afternoon—they seem to have very little in common. Take, for example, her husband’s lifelong career passion and the main preoccupation of his family for at least three generations. In 2001, after she’d been the first lady of Florida for two years, a reporter asked whether she and her husband talked about state policy. “Never,” she answered. “We talk about our daughter and sons, and cats and dogs and silly things.”
The role of political spouse always entails sacrifice, but Columba’s case has been extreme. Jeb’s time in office coincided with stretches when Columba was reportedly unhappy, because of his absence or because of troubles with one of their three children or because she herself had landed in the news in ways that mortified her. It was during Jeb Bush’s governing years that Columba let it slip to the press how her husband’s career had damaged their children, and that she reportedly told Jeb he had ruined her life. During his governorship, which ran from 1999 to 2007, she often retreated to Miami while he was living in Tallahassee.
All of which makes you wonder what it will be like for her to live through a national campaign and possibly a presidency, during which the mode she’s enjoyed least will become her entire existence. In the Jackie Kennedy years, she might have gotten away with a smile, a few supporting speeches, and an appropriate cause or two. (One of the rare YouTube videos of Columba shows her giving a Jackie-like tour of her house to a Spanish-speaking TV anchor.) But feminist resistance to the idea of wife as silent prop has in some ways put more pressure on a first lady to be serious and weighty and comfortable in front of the camera, giving someone like Columba no easy place to hide.Despite her in-laws’ history, and despite eight years of being the first lady of Florida, Columba has consistently talked about politics as if it’s something that faraway, alien people do. When, in 1992, a reporter from The Miami Herald asked her whether she was enjoying her father-in-law’s presidential campaign, she said, “I want to go back to my kitchen, to do the homework with my kids, and—why not—to watch television.”
How Tall Is Columba Bush
In 1974, Bush went to work in an entry-level position in the international division of Texas Commerce Bank, which was founded by the family of James Baker. In November 1977, he was sent to Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, to open a new operation for the bank, where he served as branch manager and vice president.
Following the 1980 presidential election, Bush and his family moved to Miami-Dade County, Florida. He took a job in real estate with Armando Codina, a 32-year-old Cubanimmigrant and self-made millionaire. Codina had made a fortune in a computer business, and then formed a new company, The Codina Group, to pursue opportunities in real estate. During his time with the company, Bush focused on finding tenants for commercial developments. Codina eventually made Bush his partner in a new development business, which quickly became one of South Florida’s leading real estate development firms. As a partner, Bush received 40% of the firm’s profits. In 1983, Bush said of his move from Houston to Miami: “On the personal side, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were already living here.” On the professional side, “I want to be very wealthy, and I’ll be glad to tell you when I’ve accomplished that goal.”
During Bush’s years in Miami, he was involved in many different entrepreneurial pursuits, including working for a mobile phone company, serving on the board of a Norwegian-owned company that sold fire equipment to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, becoming a minority owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, buying a shoe company that sold footwear in Panama, and getting involved in a project selling water pumps in Nigeria. Miguel Recarey, who ran International Medical Centres (IMC), employed Bush as a real estate consultant and paid him a US$75,000 fee for finding the company a new location, although the move never took place. Bush did, however, lobby the Reagan administration vigorously and successfully on behalf of Recarey and IMC.