We’re talking about former first lady Barbara Bush, 92, banking executive Jennifer Riordan, 43, and former Santa Fe New Mexican publisher Ginny Sohn, 63. And while they each led very different lives and represented different generations, all three lived with purpose and touched many.
Bush, who was first lady from 1989 to 1993, died at her home in Houston, surrounded by her family. She, of course, had the distinction of being one of only two women in our nation’s history whose husband and son became president. She, and her husband, former president George Bush, also had the longest marriage of any presidential couple in American history.
But it was her no-nonsense grandmotherly lack of pretense and her work on literacy that won over hearts.
She adopted literacy as her signature cause when her husband served as vice president and eventually formed a nonprofit – the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. She chose literacy because she believed that if more people could read, write and comprehend, the country would be much closer to solving so many problems that plague the nation and our society.
“Barbara Bush challenged each of us to build a better world by empowering people through literacy,” former Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff James Baker III told The Associated Press.
After leaving the White House, Barbara Bush and her husband raised more than $1 billion for literacy and cancer charities.
During a 1990 commencement address at Wellesley College, she told graduates, “Cherish your human connections. At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.”
Albuquerque’s Jennifer Riordan, meanwhile, died in a bizarre Southwest Airlines midair accident on Tuesday when an engine exploded, sending shrapnel through a nearby window. New Mexico native Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the plane and hailed by passengers for her cool demeanor during the ordeal.
Riordan, vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo bank, was a wife and mother of two young children.
“As a parent, I’ve said to my kids, ‘Be kind, loving, caring and sharing, and all good things will come to you,'” Riordan told the Journal after being honored in 2015 by the Samaritan Counseling Ethics in Business Awards with the Bill Daniels Award for Ethical Young Leadership.
She volunteered in classrooms, including both her children’s classrooms at Annunciation Catholic School.
Riordan was well-known in the community through her work with numerous nonprofits, including United Way, Junior Achievement of New Mexico, the UNM Alumni Association Board and the Catholic Foundation, Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s board of directors.
Riordan “cheerfully championed so many causes in our region and was a real force for good,” United Way of Central New Mexico said in a statement. She chaired Wells Fargo’s Community Support employee giving campaign for the past decade, served on the Mission: Graduate’s Vision Council and chaired United Way’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s Advisory Board.
Tributes for Riordan continue to pour in.
“She will always be remembered as one of Albuquerque and New Mexico’s greatest ambassadors,” said John Garcia, executive vice president of Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico.
“I don’t think in all my travels I have ever met anyone so genuine, so genuinely sweet and nice, so committed to her family, her community, her friends, her job at Wells, her (our) University …,” wrote UNM Alumni Association president Harold Lavender. ” …our solace will come from our remembering how special she was.”
Ginny Sohn, a world traveler who adopted Santa Fe as her home, was surrounded by family when she lost her battle with cancer at a hospital in Columbus, Ohio, on April 9.
Sohn began her advertising career in New York working for Conde Nast. She was a vibrant member of New Mexico’s newspaper community, having served as president of the New Mexico Press Association in 2012, the same year she was named publisher of the New Mexican. She worked at that newspaper for 30 years, holding several positions, including advertising director.
While on the Press Association board, she pushed for greater emphasis on digital products, believing them to be the future of the newspaper industry. She also served on the board of directors of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce.
Following her tenure at the New Mexican, she began her own consulting firm.
In its story about Sohn’s death, the New Mexican called her a key voice in the community for many years. Friend Lillian Montoya, chief operating officer at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, told the Journal that Sohn was a community leader who “took the time to really get to know people, the politics, the things that matter in the Santa Fe community.”
“Ginny was ferocious about life and news and reading, and she was curious and had an amazing laugh and just really loved people and great conversation,” Montoya said. “She never shied away from anything. …”
But the top priority for Sohn was always her son, Sage Shahi, a student at Montana State.
Bush, Riordan and Sohn leave behind tremendous legacies. The vibrant lives they lived are reminders that we have wonderful people in our midst who do wonderful things, that we should all strive to live life to the fullest and that each of us has it in ourselves to make the world a better place.
They each certainly did.