Saying Good-Bye to President George H.W. Bush – Sunday Political Brunch – December 9, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – There’s a movie that airs this time of year called, “It’s a Wonderful Life!” It could easily describe the life and career of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States. While I have met and interviewed a few of our more recent Presidents, I never got to meet him (though I covered him). But his story and journey fascinated me over the years, so let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Four More Years, Four More Years” – The first campaign stop after the August 1992 Republican National Convention, was in Gulfport, Mississippi. I was working at WEAR-TV3 in Pensacola, Florida, so I was assigned to cover the joint campaign rally with President Bush and Vice President Quayle in Gulfport. I’ll never forget Air Force One circling the crowd in Jones Park, on a hot, humid day. The people kept chanting, “Four more years, four more years,” as if those on the plane could hear them. It was – I believe – the first time I ever covered a U.S. President in person, and it was quite a thrill. While he eventually lost his reelection bid, being there was one of the highlights of my career as a reporter.

“Baseball Lover” – I was touched this week, when my friend and former Major League Baseball player Mike Stenhouse posted a wonderful picture of himself and then-Vice President Bush on Facebook (photo above). Bush - who played college baseball at Yale, and whose son George was Managing General Partner of the Texas Rangers ball club – just loved “America’s Pastime!” My pal “Sten,” who played college ball at Harvard and whose dad also played in the MLB, later received an autographed photo with the Vice President. It was pretty special, and a simple act of kindness for which Bush was so well-known.

“Broccoli Hater” – To this day one of my favorite stories about “Bush 41” was his absolute disdain for broccoli. It was a vegetable I absolutely hated as a kid, but later developed a likeness for in adulthood. Bush had no such transformation as mine. “I do not like broccoli,” he told reporters. “And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!” Bush even had the green vegetable banned from Air Force One. Ever the comic, First Lady Barbara Bush threatened to serve broccoli at a White House State Dinner. “You’re darn right I do. I love broccoli. We’re going to have broccoli soup, broccoli main dish, broccoli salad and broccoli ice cream,” said Mrs. Bush.

“The Loss of a Child” – I don’t think there is anything more heartbreaking in life than having to watch a parent bury a child. Our kids are supposed to outlive us, but it doesn’t always work out that way. In 1949, Robin Bush was born, the younger sibling of brother George W. Bush. Sadly, nearly four years later Robin died of acute Leukemia. Her death had a profound effect on her parents, and her older brother. It may be a cornerstone of why the Bushes were such kind and compassionate people over the years. "It seems funny after almost 50 years since her death how dear Robin is to our hearts," her father said. The Bushes set up a foundation and raised millions in Robin’s name for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America. She is buried at the Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act” – One of the hallmarks of the Bush Presidency – and an enduring sign of his compassion – was his signing of the “Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.” It was a true, bipartisan piece of legislation that the President worked on with liberal icons such as Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts). The law banned discrimination and provided public accommodations to people with a wide range of disabilities. On the day he signed the new law President Bush said, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

“Wimp? Really?” – One of the worst headlines in American press history occurred in 1987, when Newsweek Magazine had a cover story on Bush titled, “Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor.’” The essence of it was that Bush was an entitled New England, Ivy League, “blue blood” who was not nearly as tough as his boss President Reagan. Mind you that Bush was a heroic World War II fighter pilot, who was shot down over the Sea of Japan; he was later an accomplished college athlete; and, then presided over the collapse of the Cold War Soviet Union and Berlin Wall as Vice President and President. How does that equate to being a “wimp?” I don’t think Newsweek ever recovered from that colossal embarrassment.

“Classy Concession” – I’ll never forget the 1992 election. It was a tough fight, but Bush lost to Bill Clinton. Instead of being bitter, here’s what the President said: “Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Now, here's the way I see it -- the way we see it, the country should see it, that the people have spoken, and we respect the majesty of the democratic system… I just called Governor Clinton over in Little Rock and offered my congratulations. He did run a strong campaign. I wish him well in the White House.” Oddly enough, the two men became great friends and worked together on a number of projects such as relief efforts after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Even son and President George W. Bush got in the act, referring to President Bill Clinton as, “my brother from a different mother.”

“1924 Was a Very Good Year!” – My mom was born in April 1924, two months before George H.W. Bush. My dad was born in December 1924, just six months after Bush. President Jimmy Carter was also born in 1924. Bush and Carter, like my dad, also served in the U.S. Navy. The Bushes had six kids; my parents seven. Like me, their daughter Doro Bush was born in 1959. I felt a certain kinship in the similarities of our families who had parents from, “The Greatest Generation.” God rest his soul.

What are your favorite memories of President George H.W. Bush? Just click the comment button here or the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar media TV stations serving West Virginia and its five neighboring states.

Photo courtesy: Mike Stenhouse

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