The Pierces of Rye
By Jono Peters
Marvin and Pauline Pierce had sixteen grandchildren. One, to whom I am married, lives in Rye. After being asked to write something about Barbara Pierce Bush, I thought Marvin and Pauline, Barbara’s father and mother, might be a good place to start. They instilled in their children the importance of community volunteerism, education, and family.
Marvin was the “outstanding student of his time” according to a recommendation written by the dean of Miami of Ohio. Working his way through school waiting tables and tending boilers, Marvin, aka Monk, earned nine varsity letters as a football and baseball standout, was captain of one of the most successful football teams in the school’s history, was elected class president, and just happened to graduate in 1916 magna cum laude having won the Mathematics prize. He also won the tennis trophy. In 1918, he earned a graduate degree from MIT, married his college sweetheart Pauline Robinson, described in the papers at the time as a “striking beauty”, and entered the U.S. Army as a First Lieutenant.
Seven years and two children later, in 1925, Monk, now at McCall’s Magazine, Pauline, Martha, aged 5, and Jim, aged 3, moved to Onondaga Street in Rye. That year Pauline, returning to the New York hospital of her previous pregnancies, gave birth to a second daughter, Barbara. Five years later, in 1930, another son, Scott, was born.
Monk walked to the Rye train station, commuted daily to New York, and became President of McCall’s Corporation. In addition to being a gentleman Monk was a consummate volunteer and a tenacious competitor on the golf course and at the poker tables at Apawamis Club.
While raising four children, Pauline pursued her love of gardening. Her son Scott was afflicted with several childhood ailments, necessitating at least one year of home schooling. As her yard was small, she had three victory gardens throughout Rye during the war, which she and young Scott tended.
She served as President of The Rye Garden Club and as a Garden Club of America zone conservation chairman. Her talks on bio-dynamic composting and sustainability at Rye High and garden clubs throughout the area demonstrate how far she was ahead of her time. Family lore abounds of her experiments in composting and raising worms in her basement.
Although rarely showcased, she was also quite a good violinist and joined several other musicians in a performance raising money for war bonds at The Rye Playhouse. Interestingly, in an attempt to solve the pressing parking problem of the day, she was a vocal advocate of making Purchase a one-way street.
Martha, Barbara’s older sister, was a tall beauty who possessed the sharp Pierce wit. According to her youngest brother, she was the early star of the family. A model, she appeared on the covers of Glamor, Vogue, and Life. A voracious reader who grew up swimming at Manursing, she graduated from Smith College in 1940 and married Walter Rafferty, a Yale football player. Martha lived in Hartford and Fisher’s Island and died in 1999.
Brother James, mischievous, entertaining, gruff, but with a twinkle in his eye, was well loved. Starting in the Midland Annex school — the building behind CVS — he moved to Rye Country Day School, then spent one year at Rye High before attending Taft and Bowdoin. He was a football, hockey, baseball, and track standout at both schools. After a stint in the military, he followed his father into publishing at Sports Afield.
He married Margaret Dyer of Cleveland in 1949 one week before his mother tragically died in an auto accident during a morning drive with her husband to the train station. Jim and his family lived in Rye until 1958 and remained in close contact with their many Rye friends.
Jim rode telephone poles through Indian Village floods, hunted ducks off the rocks of American Yacht Club, and reportedly with his brother Scott at their father’s 75th birthday celebration in 1968, whipped his little sister’s husband George and son, Jeb, in a take-no-prisoners tennis match. (I have not asked Jeb for confirmation.)
After complications following a motorcycle accident, Jim died in 1993. Margie ived at The Osborn, from 1996 until her death in 2013. Their daughter, two of her children, and her four grandchildren continue to live in Rye.
Scott Pierce followed his brother through Milton School and Taft before graduating from Miami of Ohio. He married his Rye childhood sweetheart, the lovely and athletic Janice Chamberlin in 1952. Starting in municipal finance, Scott ultimately became President of EF Hutton.
Scott and Janice lived in Rye until 2014. They were volunteers and benefactors to a number of organizations, including the Rye Youth Council, Rye Garden Club, United Hospital, Rye Presbyterian Church, and Manhattanville College, where Scott served as President of the Board. Graceful athletes, they regularly competed in golf, paddle tennis, and tennis at Apawamis and Manursing.
As Barbara pointed out in her memoirs, she viewed Scott, whose first five years were fraught with sickness, and whose wit lacked the serrated edge of his elder siblings, as the kindest and most gentle of her siblings and the one with whom each felt closest.
Barbara attended Rye Country Day through tenth grade, with the exception of one year because her father “got mad” at Rye Country Day Headmaster Morton Snyder for suspending her brother Jim — I’m sure falsely accused — for a year. She graduated from The Ashley Hall School in South Carolina.
As has been widely reported, while on vacation from Ashley Hall, she attended a “get together dance” at Round Hill Club in Greenwich, where she met George Bush, the young man she would soon marry. While it may be true that George Bush was the first boy she kissed, she was a popular young woman. Her younger brother remembers her having several dates with a boy named Haven from Greenwich. His only memory of a Rye suiter was Terry N. — “nice enough, but not to my sister’s taste.” Apparently, after several refusals to join him for a movie at The Rye Playhouse, “Mother made her accept a date. He arrived at the appointed hour and Bar made him wait for a while, during which time he amused Dad and me by unconsciously eating not one but three dried roses that Mother had in a bowl to make the room smell good.”
Matriculating at Smith College where she was captain of the freshman soccer team, Barbara dropped out and married George in 1945 at Rye Presbyterian Church; a reception followed at Apawamis Club.
Barbara’s passion for literacy is well known and she raised over $400 million dollars for that cause. She lent her name as honorary chairman of the capital campaign in 1997 that raised over $4 million dollars for the Rye Free Reading Room and she graciously joined her niece, the quarterback of that expansion, in attending the ribbon-cutting celebration. She was all about family.
Daughter of Marvin and Pauline Pierce, a product of Indian Village and Milton School, Barbara Pierce Bush went on to become beloved by the American people. Smart, brutally honest with a self-deprecating sense of humor, she raised a family as she was raised and finds herself in American history as one of two Americans, with Abigail Adams, as both the wife and mother of American presidents.
Fifteen hundred people celebrated her life in a funeral service recently in Houston attended by four past presidents and the wife of the sitting president. Thousands of people stood in line to pay their respects. At a family gathering the night before the funeral, hosted by George and Laura Bush, Marvin and Pauline’s family, always very close, was represented by their son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Janice Pierce, their son-in-law, George H. W. Bush, twenty-two grandchildren and spouses, and twenty-nine great-grandchildren and spouses. “Aunt Bar” would have loved it.
In Barbara Pierce Bush’s words, “George Bush and I have been the two luckiest people in the world, and when all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family, and friends.”
Clockwise from front: Molly Peters, Janice Pierce, Barbara Bush, Jill Peters, Peggy Peters and her parents, Margie and Jim Pierce
Barbara Bush greeting her brother Jim Pierce
Pauline and Marvin Pierce with three of their four children, Jim, Barbara, and Martha