In the mid ‘80s when Ronald Reagan was President, then Vice President George H.W. Bush came to our home town for an event or two that my civically-minded and servant dad spearheaded. I don’t remember specifics, but a few things I do.
I remember my mom inviting the Bush Advance team over for dinner, offering to wash their clothes since she knew they traveled pretty much non-stop. We gathered around the dining room table that sits in my dining room today and ate whatever she was cooking for our family that night. It was delightful. Such nice people.
And I remember meeting and taking a picture with the then Vice President George Bush, an incredibly nice, personable and principled man serving his country – something he did for majority of his life.
My brothers, sister & I circa 1984-ish — so young, such lovely outfits :)
Not many years after, my sister began working for George Bush – traveling Advance while he was Vice President and during his 1988 Presidential bid. She then had the amazing opportunity to work as part of his West Wing staff and has stayed close to the Bush family since.
A few years later, I followed her to D.C. and took a job traveling for his Vice President, Dan Quayle. It wasn’t the politics or landmark events that made working in the ’41 Bush White House special – it was people at the helm.
The Bushes expected people in their Administration – from close staff like my sister, to the minions like me – to put others ahead of themselves, to act with propriety and decorum, to honor each person, to be respectful, to be kind and to selflessly serve.
In a statement released by President Bush’s office last night, this amazing man credited his parents for this and
… for the enduring lessons that shaped his life. “My parents were my most important role models, he later confided. ‘My dad stood for something and believed in giving back. My mother taught us fundamental things: ‘Don’t brag.’ ‘Think of the other guy.’ ‘Be kind to people.’ The things they taught me served me in good stead all the way through my presidency.”
He lived it. I know because I witnessed it. George H.W. Bush left a trail of goodwill in his wake because he didn’t do those things for show. He did them because he cared – about people. To him every person mattered.
I will never forget – and I actually think about it often – an elevator ride I had in Geneva while working a trip for Vice President Quayle who was to address the U.N. in Switzerland in 1991.
“Are you in town with the White House?” the man sharing our elevator ride asked. He was one of the drivers in the U.S. Embassy’s vehicle pool.
“Yes, we are,” I replied. “The Vice President will be here for a few meetings and a speech.”
“I hope you’re enjoying your time,” he offered. Then, looking like he was about to bust he confessed, “I have to tell you, I love President Bush.”
Civil servants, folks who work for Embassies and in government, are not political appointments. They usually don’t voice opinions of the people holding Office. So I was a little surprised at this man’s unabashed enthusiasm.
“I do too,” I told him.
Then he shared the story I’ve never forgotten.
“I was young and had just started working here when President Bush was appointed as Ambassador to the U.N. There was a lot of activity preparing for his arrival. It was a big deal. And I remember being nervous to meet him since I was young and new to my job. But I will never forgot what happened. He shook my hand. Smiled, looked me in the eye and said hello to me by name. And then asked about my family – by name. How could he have known me? My family? He was so kind and he didn’t forget me either.” His excitement was contagious.
“And I wasn’t the only one,” he continued. “George Bush knew all of us. Later, I asked my superior how that could be possible. She told me that he had asked to have pictures and information on all who would be working for him to be sent to him ahead of his arrival. He made note cards and memorized our names and interests – because we mattered to him.” He smiled and shook his heard, remembering, relishing, “What a man; what a man.”
The fact that an important person, by the world’s standard, would consider important someone often overlooked by the world forever impacted an Embassy pool-driver – and me too.
Maybe in the days ahead as we celebrate the life of a true American hero, a humble servant-leader, might we take note and follow his lead – practice kindness, see & respect the people traveling alongside, consider others interest ahead of our own and selflessly serve.
Thanks for walking the road with me.