Mourners pay their respects to First Lady Barbara Bush

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His daughter standing behind him, former President George H.W. Bush sat at the front of the cavernous sanctuary of St. Martin's Episcopal Church. He gazed up at the rose-draped casket holding his wife of 73 years.

After a few moments, an aide came forward to help Bush with his wheelchair, turning it so he faced the rest of the sanctuary. A string of mourners began to approach: adults and children, many of the women wearing his wife's favorite color, blue, and trademark pearls. He offered his hand and smiled as people shook it.

Thousands of people came Friday to pay respect to Barbara Bush, wife of the nation's 41st president and mother of the nation's 43rd.

Among them was Houston social worker Varney Johnson, who like other mourners said he wanted to honor her work supporting literacy. "This woman dedicated her life to educating children," he said.

Barbara and George Bush were married longer than any other presidential couple when she died Tuesday at their home in Houston. One of just two first ladies to have a child elected president, Barbara Bush was widely admired for her plainspoken style and her advocacy for causes including literacy and AIDS awareness. 

A hearse containing the former first lady's casket arrived before daybreak at St. Martin's, which is the nation's largest Episcopal church. Her body was to be in repose from noon until midnight. A spray of dozens of roses covered the closed light-colored metallic casket.

The 93-year-old former president arrived at the church shortly after the viewing opened, accompanied by daughter Dorothy Bush Koch. He hadn't been scheduled to visit, but he decided to go after watching video from the church, said family spokesman Jim McGrath. Bush shook dozens of hands and stayed for about 15 minutes.  

"I think he was very touched by all of the people who were taking the time out of their lives," McGrath said. "It was just a natural inclination for him."

A diverse crowd of people made their way through the sanctuary on Friday afternoon, all with kind words.

"Mrs. Bush was a great lady. We all loved her. She was like our Texas grandmother. She was a part of literacy, she's done so many things for the community, and she's just a very giving woman and I wanted to pay my respects because we love her and we respect her," said Debbie Bates.

A private funeral for only invited guests will be held on Saturday. She will be laid to rest Saturday afternoon at the George HW Bush Presidential Library in College Station.

In a statement released Friday, the family said Barbara Bush had selected son Jeb to deliver a eulogy along with her longtime friend Susan Baker, wife of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2015 biography of her husband.

Some 1,500 guests are expected to attend Saturday’s funeral, including first lady Melania Trump, former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, and former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.

President Trump will not attend. He says he wants to avoid being a distraction from the Bush family and the funeral procedure.

There will be a motorcade after going through Houston's memorial park so mourner can again pay their respects.

The funeral will begin Saturday at 11 a.m.