They had more in common than white hair. They had grandchildren, sometheir own but a lot of them "borrowed" and all of them loved, according to their hostess.
The only trouble, Barbara Bush told 26 senior citizens from around the country yesterday, was that "we're running out of you. We've got to get more help because, unfortunately, the boarder babies and the babies that need you are multiplying. So we've got to work on both ends. We've got to stop them from being abandoned and born with AIDS and coke-related problems. And we've got to tell more people that they're needed."
One way of spreading that word was by celebrating the 25th anniversary of ACTION's Foster Grandparent Program at a White House reception. Her guests, the eldest 93 years old, and their companions were from the current volunteer force of 27,000. Over the years, 400,000 volunteers have participated in the program.
Foster Grandparents provide companionship and guidance on a one-to-one basis for physically, emotionally and mentally handicapped children as well as those who are abused, neglected and in the juvenile justice system. After 40 hours of training, the volunteer "grandparents" are assigned to day-care centers, residential facilities, hospitals, public schools and other institutions.
Volunteers, who must be at least 60 years old, receive a modest tax-free stipend covering minor expenses plus a meal while working, accident and liability insurance and an annual physical exam.
Mrs. Bush introduced drug "czar" William Bennett, who had told her about the increasing need for volunteer "grandparents."
"We're going to need more foster parents and grandparents before the drug war is over. And when the drug war's over, we're still going to need them because the babies will still be the casualties," Bennett told reporters.
The occasion gave Mrs. Bush a chance to talk about one of her favorite subjects -- her own grandchildren. "We Bushes love being grandparents. We've been through it 12 times and it's gotten to be a wonderful habit."
Describing her children's relationship with their paternal grandmother, Dorothy Bush, the First Lady said they were "really better people because they had the pleasure of her company. I'm sure you have that same wonderful effect that George's mother had on the children whose lives you touch."
Even as she spoke, there were Bush grandchildren in the house, though the number had dwindled from four to two since Sunday. There was a mischievous twinkle in her eye when she mentioned Marvin Bush's children, Marshall and Walker, and Dorothy Bush LeBlond's children, Sam and Ellie.
"I'm glad you weren't here yesterday," she confided.
By her own admission, she was "everybody's grandmother" when George Bush ran for president. Now she's everybody's new best friend. Next to President Bush, the person most Republican candidates want to stand next to in the weeks ahead is First Lady Barbara Bush.
Whether the feeling is mutual is something party loyalist Barbara Bush will never tell. She has stood in enough "milk bottle" lineups during her 30 years of supporting GOP candidates to know how much a picture is worth to them.
The Bushes will be lining up again on Thursday at the dedication of the Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif., where every Republican candidate for state office will be in the audience.
From there Mrs. Bush heads for Washington state. She'll thank the 10,000 volunteers who will work at the Goodwill Games, which open in Seattle on Saturday, and she'll help Republicans raise money for legislative candidates in state and national races.
Half of the proceeds will go to Rep. John Miller, whose former press secretary, Anna Perez, was hired by Mrs. Bush when she and the president moved to the White House. Another beneficiary will be former governor Bob Williams, Pat Robertson's man who lost the Washington statehouse in 1988 and now is trying to unseat Democratic incumbent Rep. Jolene Unsoeld, whose narrow 618-vote victory two years ago has been like a red flag to the White House ever since.
While President Bush campaigns in Idaho and Montana, then drops by Cheyenne's Frontier Days en route to Washington, Mrs. Bush will touch down in Nebraska to campaign for Gov. Kay Orr at an ice cream social.
And talking about grandmothers, Britain's Diana, Princess of Wales, is coming to town Oct. 4 to raise money for Grandma's House, a nonprofit group providing care and support to AIDS children. Since she's also official patron of the London City Ballet, two other groups benefiting from the gala that night at the Departmental Auditorium will be the London City Ballet and the Washington Ballet. The event's sponsor is ADT Security Services, an international security protection firm and a major sponsor of the London ballet. Among the members of the gala committee are Pamela Harriman, Evangeline Bruce and Bunny Mellon.
On the theory that a rose by any other name smells as sweet a week later, here's a summit communique, courtesy of Roberta Greene & Associates Inc. of New York, that piques both curiosity and the sense of smell:
"Texas native Georgette Mosbacher, CEO of La Prairie, demonstrates that one can attend an economic summit and still come out smelling like a rose. Proving that politics and perfume do mix, Mrs. Mosbacher, wife of the Secretary of Commerce, has been asked by Barbara Bush to donate samples of her new perfume 'One Perfect Rose' for welcome bags for the July 9-11 Summit."
Mrs. Bush's office had no comment. No one knows what the summit wives thought of the eau de parfum, which retails for $80 per 1.7 ounces.