Jenna Welch, whose $8,000 loss in the Enron scandal was invoked by her son-in-law, President George W. Bush, to distance himself from his energy company connections, died on Friday in Texas. She was 99.
Her daughter, former First Lady Laura Bush, confirmed the death on Instagram, saying her mother had been “a true daughter of West Texas who loved her family, books, and nature.”
Her granddaughter and namesake, Jenna Bush Hager, a correspondent for the NBC show “Today,” said on Twitter that Mrs. Welch, a self-educated naturalist, “taught me how to slow down and appreciate every bird, and every plant in West Texas.”
Mrs. Welch was rarely in the limelight during the Bush presidency. She lived in Midland, Tex., where she had moved with her husband, Harold, after World War II.
But early in 2002, on a trip to West Virginia, President Bush seemed to suggest that an epiphany involving his mother-in-law had prompted him to turn against the Enron Corporation and Kenneth L. Lay, its chief executive and his largest single contributor, whom he called “Kenny Boy.”
“My own mother-in-law bought stock last summer, and it’s not worth anything now,” Mr. Bush said. “She didn’t know all the facts. And a lot of shareholders didn’t know all the facts. And that’s wrong.”
White House advisers acknowledged that the president’s remarks made him seem more empathetic and that they portrayed his family as fellow victims of a company that had gone belly up.
But they insisted that Mr. Bush’s comments had not represented a calculated shift to distance himself from Mr. Lay, although Republican polls indicated that the president’s close relationship with energy companies were a potential political vulnerability.
Jenna Louise Hawkins was born on July 24, 1919, in Little Rock, Ark., to Halsey Sinclair Hawkins and Jessie Laura (Sherrard) Hawkins.
She grew up in Canutillo, Tex., near El Paso, and attended the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (now the University of Texas at El Paso) for two years before leaving to work fulltime for the advertising department of a local dry goods company.
That was where she met Harold Welch, whom she married in 1944, just before he was shipped to Europe as a master gunner in the Army. Their daughter and only child, Laura, was born in Midland the year the couple moved there, 1946. President Bush’s family had also moved to Midland, which was where he met the future first lady.
Mr. Welch died in 1995.
Mrs. Welch was a Girl Scout troop leader, a Sunday school teacher at the First United Methodist Church of Midland and a member of the Midland Naturalist Society.
In addition to their daughter Laura and granddaughter Jenna, Mrs. Welch is survived by Jenna Bush Hager’s twin, Barbara Pierce Bush; and two great-granddaughters.
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