New York State Funeral Directors Association

Anita Freer had career goals decades ago, but she put those aside to focus on raising her family.

And, just like the late First Lady, Barbara Bush, Freer carried with her the grief of losing a young child.

Though she’d put her personal goals aside, Freer raised children and grandchildren and had no regrets by the age of 72.

When Barbara Bush passed away, she lost a role model.

Though she was hundreds of miles from the family, Freer was able to write her sentiments down thanks to a Condolence Book at the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY.

This National Historic Site, dedicated to the 32nd U.S. President, joined several sites around the country in making Condolence Books available to the public.

Once they are delivered to the Bush Presidential Library in Texas, they’ll become part of the official record of the U.S.Anita Freer Wrote this Heartfelt Message About Former First Lady Barbara Bush in a Condolence Book at the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York

Condolence books are something people often see when they arrive at a funeral home for a service.

They give folks the opportunity to share personal messages that grieving family members can look to after the difficult days that follow a death.

Sometimes, there aren’t enough pages in one book to capture the volume of thoughts and emotion generated when the loved one is known nationwide.

Such was the case in the spring of 2018, when condolence books were opened up throughout the U.S. to comfort family and honor the influential First Lady who passed away at 92 on April 17.

Three days after Bush passed away, Freer, of Highland, NY was able to express both sorrow at the loss and admiration for the life of a woman she’d looked up to:

“You always validated my choice to always put home and hearth first, even though I could have put career first,” Freer wrote in the condolence book placed at Hyde Park, NY, the homestead of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

There’s no law or policy that directs the establishment of condolence books – it’s become a custom throughout the country, according to an e-mail from Clifford Laube, a public programs specialist at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Staff at these sites, which are all part of the National Archives’ presidential library system, forward these books to the appropriate presidential libraries for safekeeping, Laube said.

Barbara Bush. Image from the Library of CongressCondolence books for Barbara Bush were available at the White House in Washington, DC, at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in California and at the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, to name a few.

Condolences at the loss of prominent figures, and after historically grievous events, are among the collections preserved by libraries in the National Archives and Records Administration system.

More than 1.5 million letters of condolence were sent to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis following the assassination of President Kennedy.

They are preserved and remain visible today, in digital form, on the library’s website.

Condolence books are also prepared by U.S. embassies around the world when a U.S. figure passes away.

They are then gathered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Hundreds of condolence messages from around the world were sent to the American people following the devastating attacks of Sept. 11 – they are preserved at the Bush Presidential Library.


Barbara Bush, one of few Americans called a First Lady, had a big impact on people who never even met her, so libraries and other places responded with a way for people to express their feelings.

Funeral homes set up condolence books in places like Dayton, Ohio; El Dorado, Arkansas; and Sarasota, Florida, to name a few.

People continued writing kind thoughts into the month of May in an online condolence book established online by Internet obituary company

There were many warm messages scribed onto the pages of the book at the FDR Library.Bobbie Jo Senzio of Johnstown, NY writes in the condolence book for Barbara Bush at the FDR Library & Museum

Bobbie Jo Senzio, who signed the Condolence Book at Hyde Park, said she felt writing in the book was the right thing to do to honor Barbara Bush.

“She was an icon,” said Senzio, of Johnstown, NY, who paused to sign the book while chaperoning children during a field trip.

If the other books drew similar interest, there will be thousands of well-wishes the Bush family, and the rest of America, can look back on in the future.

Thoughts left at the visitor center in Hyde Park show Barbara Bush reached many people – both from within her native state of New York and from beyond.

Notes were penned by people from New York locales like White Plains, Long Island, Hudson, Pleasantville and Schenectady.

There is a note from the history class at Scarsdale High School - located about 10 miles from Barbara Bush’s birthplace in Rye, NY; and kind words were written by visitors from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Hampshire, Texas, South Carolina, Minnesota and other U.S. states.

One of the notes was penned by a visitor to the FDR site from Italy.

Not everyone who signed the condolence book for Barbara Bush went there to visit the FDR Museum & Library:

I came all the way from Woodstock NY just to pay respect for all you were to many, many of us you are loved by me and many others. My condolence to all your good family. With all my love and caring.

- Violet G.


EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association