“All things should be done decently and in order.”
1 Corinthians [14:40]
GEORGE BUSH; A LEGACY OF DECENCY
In 2004 I was fortunate enough to be invited to have dinner with George Bush and a dozen or so other corporate senior executives. We all met in a back-office meeting room of a large bank, whom hosted the event. I remember thinking to myself, amazing that I would actually be meeting with a former president. It was both intimidating and exhilarating. Nervous would be an exact description of how I felt.
I remember sitting and listening to Bush talk and being too anxious to ask any questions. I silently listened to the conversation. At one point, a bolder executive asked president Bush why he continued on into Iraq after the Kuwait war and wouldn’t that have saved a lot of misery for the people of Iraq and the world. Bush simply replied, “It was not what the United Nations asked our country to do. Our mandate was to free Kuwait. Both Colin Powell and I agreed to follow our orders and stop at the border.”
While some could criticize this obedience to the United Nations mandate, for me it reflected on who he was as a person. I was impressed that he took a tact of obedience that was respectful of his task and not to over step the wishes of other world leaders.
Later in the same conversation, another bolder person asked him if he supported his son’s attack on Iraq, knowing that Iraq had tried to assassinate him during a later visit to Kuwait after the first Gulf War. His reply to us was; “Both his mother and I voiced our disapproval to him.” While publicly he is attributed to supporting the invasion of Iraq, this is what we heard that night as a group. His point was that personal retaliation wasn’t a reason for creating war. There had to be a higher cause and support from the United Nation. He didn’t see America as a stand-alone nation, but part of a global community.
But there are interesting things that many don’t know George Bush. During World War 2, right after his high school graduation, where he was president of senior class, he enlisted and went into flight training. Ten months later he became the youngest aviator in the Navy and flew many missions. On one particular mission, his plane was hit by flack and his engines caught fire. He still completed the objective of his mission, turned the plane around, flew out to sea and safely parachuted into the Pacific. Later to be rescued by a submarine.
Bush went to Yale after completing his military service. Instead of graduating in the normal four years, Bush graduated in two and a half years. He was also the captain of the Yale baseball team that participated in the first two college World Series.
During the infamous Watergate scandal, he was the chairperson of the Republican party. He personally visited President Nixon and asked him to resign for the good of our country and the Republican party.
Serving our country, after building a successful oil business became his life goal starting in 1964. He was a member of the House of Representatives during the sixties and later was the Ambassador to the United Nations.
In 1980 he ran as a Republican candidate for the presidency but lost to Ronald Reagan. Regan later, picked him as his Vice-President. Despite Bush’s famous remark, calling Reagan’s economic ideas as “Voodoo Economics.” Reagan knew Bush was a strong leader and a decent man, someone he could trust.
This was played out during the assassination attempt on President Reagan. Bush was in Texas at the time. Upon hearing about the attempt and Reagan’s condition hurriedly flew back to Washington. Upon landing he was met by Helicopter One, the President’s military helicopter, and was told they would take him to the White House and land in the South Garden. He was next in line to be president if President Reagan died and the Secret Service wanted him protected at the highest level.
Bush refused and said, “Only the president lands in the South Garden.” There was no show of trying to grab power or any way of being disrespectful to President Reagan. After Reagan heard Bush’s remark it strengthened the relationship between these two leaders.
Bush did go on to be president for one term. During which the Iron Curtain fell and the country had fallen into a deep recession. Critics will say he lost the second election because of his famous statement, “Read my lips; no new taxes.” A misguided comment that proved to be untrue, as taxes were raised. Coupled with the state of the economy, President Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton.
For nearly thirty years Bush served our country. But perhaps his greatest life legacy will be the organization he started in the early nineties, called “The Points of Light Foundation.” Bush believed in volunteerism and our responsibility to help our neighbor. Through the years the organization grew and in 2012, Points of Light mobilized 4 million volunteers in 30 million hours of service worth $635 million.
Bush was also a devout Christian and his faith dictated his life and he would later say helped him through many tough times; including the death of his first daughter at the age of three, his time in the waters of the Pacific after be shot down and finally the death of his wife of seventy two years. During his last moments old friend, James Baker, told him he was going to heaven. He replied, “Good that’s where I want to go.”
President Bush was a leader all his life, from high school to the military to college to his business life and on in service for his country. He didn’t grab or take power, he earned it with leadership through decency and obedience to his task.
Like all of us Bush had his regrettable moments; like the Iran Contra scandal. But these moments don’t define any of us, only to show we are all less than perfect.
For those in that room that evening we only saw a decent person. There was graciousness and vulnerability in how he spoke and listened. He wasn’t pompous or arrogant, in those moments he was just a humble person sharing his life with us.
When I went to have my picture taken with him, he grabbed my hand and thanked me for coming. We smiled together, thankful for the time.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES: DAVID HUME KENNERLY