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Video: Bush 41’s letters: ‘If you need me, I am here’

TODAY books
updated 3/11/2013 6:14:59 PM ET 2013-03-11T22:14:59

“All the Best, George Bush” portrays the wit, insight and warmth of the former president as it culls together his correspondence from over the course of his remarkable life. Reissued with a new chapter concentrating on the last thirteen years, the collection sheds new light on the personal side of the president’s legacy. Here’s an excerpt.

I wrote this letter to my friend Hugh Sidey after the Supreme Court decision that decided George W. had won the contested, hanging-chad-infected election.

                                                                                         Dec. 16, 2000
Dear Hugh,

The fat lady sang. The ordeal ended. And now a huge new chapter in the lives of the Bush family opens up. But let me finish my “election watch” series with this the 41st and final entry.

The long, tortuous ordeal that began really early in the morning of November eighth ended when the U.S. Supreme Court took the action it did. When the Court finally ruled, Al Gore’s team of able lawyers saw that it was over. The Vice President and his closest confidantes looked in every corner to find wiggle room; but they wisely concluded that he no longer had a chance. He decided to withdraw.

Right up until Gore spoke to the nation I was not sure in my own mind what he would say, how he would say it. His speech was absolute perfection. He did it with grace and dignity and a genuineness that enthralled the nation. I know how difficult it was for him to do what he did.

As soon as I saw him on the TV leaving the EOB, I called the White House switchboard and asked to be connected. I watched him get into his limo and but a few minutes later the phone rang and it was the Vice President. I congratulated him, just one sentence or two, just a few words. I suddenly felt for him, saw him as a man whose disappointment had to be overpowering. I knew he must be hurting. He was very gracious. He thanked me. The conversation was over in a flash, but I suddenly felt quite different about Al Gore. The anger was gone, the competitive juices stopped flowing. I thought of Algore as two words (Al Gore) not one. I thought of his long years of service and of his family. I thought back to my own feelings of years before when I lost, when I had to go out and accept my defeat. He did it better than I did, and his ordeal had to be tougher because the election was so close. True I had to actually give up the Presidency that he was now seeking, but still he had been in public life a long time and he and his family were shattered.

But then for Bar and me, here in our little Houston house the scene shifted to Austin, Texas. I had been on the phone several times to George, his telling me what he planned to do in his speech, telling me of the setting designed to emphasize bi‑partisanship. Incidentally I have had more phone conversations over the last month with George than one could imagine. During the ordeal, and even since, we talk all the time.

Barbara and I, alone here, climbed into bed to watch our son. Before he came on I flipped from channel to channel. The chattering class was busy. There wasn’t as much shouting, not quite as much; but there was lots of opining. Law professors and politicians past and present, news people—print and electronic, historians of note and of little note. They were all saying what George had to do. Declaring this the speech of his life. I could just feel the bar being raised. They properly credited Gore with giving a great, generous speech of healing. This they said made it tougher for George. They talked about expectations being low—“the man is not a great speaker, you know.” They set limits—things he had to do or must not do.

I don’t know why I did this to myself but it wasn’t for long and soon we settled on one channel and the announcer began to set the stage, telling America about the Texas Capitol, about the Democratic Speaker, Pete Laney, who was to introduce George.

I saw a couple of shots of George and Laura holding hands. I saw in his posture, in the way he walked in his smile the same mannerisms and expressions we have known ever since he was a little boy.

Pete Laney, a good old boy from the Panhandle, gave a wonderful introduction emphasizing that George had worked in a bi‑partisan manner to get things done for Texas. And then he goes: “The 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush”.

As the camera focused on George and Laura walking into the chamber my body was literally wracked with uncontrollable sobs. It just happened. No warning, no thinking that this might be emotional for a mother or dad to get through—just an eruption from deep within me where my body literally shook. Barbara cried, too. We held hands.

Just before he began to speak we saw in George’s eyes the emotion he was feeling. We know it so well. He did not “lose it”, but he was clearly moved and his mother and dad knew it for fact certain.

We listened to our own son give thanks to God and tell our divided country what he planned to do.

The speech was not a long one—13 minutes maybe. It was in my view just right. Later, on Jim Lehrer’s show David Broder and some pundit from the Weekly Standard would say it was not eloquent enough; but I was sure it was good.

When the speech ended I watched until George left the room. Then I called Logan [Walters], George’s assistant, on his mobile phone. Logan is never but a step or two away. I said “Logan, this is George Bush the elder, can you hand this phone to my boy?”

He did and George comes on the phone “What did you think Dad?” I told him how perfect I felt his speech was. I also told him I had lost it. I handed the phone to his mother who reiterated how well he had done, how proud we were.

We hung up. We watched as George left the Capitol and drove to the Mansion. When he turned into the driveway we saw a new white curtain drawn across the front entrance—put there by the USSS so our son could exit his limo out of sight of the public. I knew this security procedure well. This was but one more manifestation of how his life had changed—will change in the days and years ahead.

May God give our son the strength he needs. May God protect the 43rd President of the United States of America.                                          

                                 Your friend, the proudest father in the whole wide world,                                                                                                 George

Email to my granddaughters Jenna, Barbara and Lauren.

                                                                                        March 9, 2003

Subject: Nervous grandfather

It is Sunday morning. I am at my duty station in the office. I am worrying about three of my older granddaughters. Spring Break causes the worry. I wonder—are all three off somewhere trying to get on the Wild College Women TV show? Are they having a good time? Are they sticking near their three campuses so they can do what, well, what I used to do during spring break back in the good old days, circa 1946-47-48. Namely, stick near the Library. I found it was almost free of noise and people during spring break. Maybe you three have discovered the same thing. I am here all week in Houston in case you need adult leadership. In spite of these worries, maybe because of these worries, I love all three of you "guys" (who says the Gampster can't be "with it"?)



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I sent this e mail to my granddaughter Barbara, and the second one to both Barbara and Jenna.

                                                                June 27, 2003

Subject: A cat

I am in the QUEENS Bedroom. Your Mum and Dad are gone. There is a black cat on my bed rubbing against my arm pit. What should I do? Now the cat is on the table. Help!

                                                               Your devoted Gampy

It is now 5:14 AM. That cat, Willy, is on my bed rubbing against my hand and licking it too. She/he was outside my door when I walked out to go get my coffee. [White House Butler James] Ramsey was bringing the coffee. So I went back to bed, and the next thing I remember is that cat nuzzling me. My question is, “Does the cat really love me?” Or, oops I am now in the bathroom and the cat, after rubbing against my leg, is now sitting on the chair right near my legs. What’s a Gampster to do?

                                                                  POTUS 41

A letter to President Clinton.

                                                                                            Jan. 23, 2008

Dear Bill,

My heart went out to you when I saw you trying to keep your eyes open during an MLK Day sermon.

I could indeed "feel your pain." I have been there myself, more than once I might add, and it physically hurt as I tried to keep my eyes open. I don't remember if I ever told you about the prestigious Scowcroft Award, given during my White House days to the person that fell most soundly asleep during a meeting. Points were added for "recovery."

A standard recovery gambit was to awake from a sound sleep, and start by nodding one's head in agreement to something just said in the meeting, something you had not heard at all. Writing something on a pad, anything at all, scored points. Good recoveries were awarded lots of points in determining the Scowcroft winner.

I remember when [Dick] Cheney won the award one time. We presented it to him at a nice dinner in the Rose Garden. Modest fellow that he is, he proclaimed himself unworthy, though his solid sleep in the Cabinet meeting had been witnessed by all assembled.

Scowcroft, of course, was hopeless. He could sleep in any meeting at any time of day. Always pleasant when he woke up, he was a leader without peers in both the sleep field and the recovery field.

Such was his leadership that the award was named for him. He never fully appreciated that. Anyway, having been a Scowcroft award recipient myself, I send you now my total understanding and my warmest personal regards. As I heard that minister droning on, I made a challenge for the trophy myself.

                                                                                        Your friend,


Excerpted from ALL THE BEST, GEORGE BUSH by George H.W. Bush. Copyright © 2013 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

Photos: The life and times of George H.W. Bush

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  1. Early days

    George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Mass. Soon after, the family moved to Greenwich, Conn. His father, Prescott Bush, was a railroad and steel executive who went on to become a U.S. Senator from Connecticut. The future president is seen here with his sister Mercy in 1929. (The White House via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Substantial family

    Bush was the second of five chidlren and part of an influential and affluent family. He is seen here (top left) with his father, Prescott (center), and other family members in this undated photo. Bush went to the prestigious Phillips Academy boarding school in Andover, Mass., before joining the Navy as an aviator soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Young gun

    Joining the Navy just out of high school, Bush became the service's youngest aviator at age 19, seeing considerable action in the Pacific. In 1944 the aircraft he was piloting was hit by flak and he was forced to bail into the ocean, where he waited for four hours in a rubber raft until being rescued. Bush flew 58 missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and several other medals. He was honorably discharged at the end of the war, having married Barbara Pierce in January 1945. (Hulton Archive - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A Yale man

    Like his father and several other forbears, Bush attended Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Because of his war service, he was enrolled in an accelerated program that enabled him to graduate in 1948. At Yale he was active in sports, playing first base for the college's team and taking part in the first two College World Series. Like his father (and his eldest son, George Walker Bush), he became a member of the secretive Skull and Bones Society. He graduated with a degree in economics. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Oilman turns to politics

    After Yale, Bush moved to Midland, Texas, where his father had connections in the oil industry. After a couple of years working for someone else, Bush started his own drilling and exploration company, which was soon lucrative and made him a rich man in his own right. After about a decade, though, his ambitions turned to politics, and after an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1964, he won a Congressional seat in 1966. He is seen with his wife, Barbara, during one of his campaigns during the 1960s. (The White House via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Pilots together

    Bush proudly displays the officer's bar of 2nd Lt. George W. Bush during the ceremony in which the younger Bush was sworn into the Air National Guard in 1968. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. China hand

    In 1970, President Nixon persuaded Bush to run for the U.S. Senate, a race he lost. Nixon then appointed him U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a job he held for two years. Following Nixon's resignation, President Ford appointed Bush as a special envoy to China, where he is seen with wife Barbara in 1974. (The White House via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Spy-in-chief

    In January 1976, Ford appointed Bush as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Both are seen here at the swearing-in ceremony. But the job was to last less than a year because Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the November general election and Carter declined to keep him in the position. Bush then returned to private life in Texas. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Push for president

    In the late '70s, Bush decided that he wanted to be president and began traveling the country in an attempt to drum up support. He entered the Republican primaries in early 1980 and had some early success before being defeated by Ronald Reagan. Here, he peeks around a partition displaying a poster of Reagan during an event in Columbia, S.C. At the convention later that year, Reagan selected Bush to be his running mate, placing him on the winning Republican presidential ticket. (Anonymous / ASSOCIATED PRESS) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Ticket on parade

    Reagan and Bush are shown on the podium of Joe Louis Arena in Detroit as the final curtain draws near on the July 1980 Republican National Convention. Nancy Reagan is at left and Barbara Bush is at right. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Second race

    In 1984, Reagan and Bush were reelected for a second term, beating Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. Here, Bush greets Ferraro, the first woman vice-presidential candidate, before the beginning of their October 1984 debate. The event was to prove contentious, with Ferraro accusing Bush of having a "patronizing attitude" and fiercely defending her pro-choice view on abortion. (Gene J. Puskar / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Snuggle time

    President and Barbara Bush have a bedroom get-together with grandchildren Pierce, twins Barbara and Jenna (in bed), Marshall, Jeb. Jr. and Sam during an August 1987 vacation at their summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. (David Valdez / The White House via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Inner circle

    Bush, at right, attends a meeting of President Reagan's council of economic advisers. After a somewhat frosty beginning, Bush and Reagan became close and would lunch together in the Oval Office every Thursday. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Ticket and wives

    Bush and his wife, Barbara, left, stand with vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle and his wife, Marilyn, at the conclusion of the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans. Bush and Quayle won the subsequent election. (Ron Edmonds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Riding a wave

    President-elect Bush is hit by a wave while fishing in Florida following his 1988 election victory. (Robert Sullivan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Goodbye and hello

    Reagan and Bush leave the White House on January 20, 1989, Reagan's last day as president and Bush's first day in the Oval Office. Bush had beaten Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis the previous November. (The White House via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The wall falls

    One of the major events of Bush's presidency was the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Here, thousands of young East Berliners gather near the Brandenburg Gate after Guenter Schabowski, the East Berlin Communist party boss, declared that East Germans would be free to leave the country. (Gerard Malie / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Another toppling

    Another regime change came in December 1989 when American forces removed Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega from power. Here, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney stands by as General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs reporters about the operation. (Bob Pearson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Confronting Saddam

    In the summer of 1990, Bush had another international crisis on his hands -- the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait. Here, American fighters fly over a Kuwaiti oilfield which had been torched by retreating Iraqi troops during the ensuing Gulf War. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Last rites

    Bush and Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev laugh during a July 1991 press conference in Moscow that concluded a two-day summit on nuclear disarmament. A month later, Gorbachev was under house arrrest after a coup. Though he was restored to power, the Soviet Union crumbled and Gorbachev left office in December. (Mike Fisher / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Controversial appointment

    Bush looks on as Clarence Thomas takes the oath to become a justice of the United States Supreme Court during a ceremony at the White House in October 1991. Holding the bible is Clarence's wife, Virginia. Thomas's confirmation came after contentious Senate hearings that included allegations of sexual harassment. (Marcy Nighswander / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Boris and Bush

    Gorbachev's successor in the Kremlin, Boris Yeltsin, throws a horseshoe during a game outside the Oval Office in July 1992. No word on who won. (J. David Ake / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Remember Ross?

    Presidential candidates Bill Clinton, Ross Perot and George Bush shake hands with panelists after the conclusion of their final presidential debate in October 1992. Perot's strong showing in the election, as well as fallout from Bush's broken "Read my lips -- no new taxes" pledge, were keys to Clinton's win. (J. David Ake / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Campaign sign

    Bush speaks to a group of supporters while a lone protester holds up a sign during a November 1992 campaign stop in New Jersey. Bush lost the election to Bill Clinton. (Robert Giroux / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Nabobs of NAFTA

    Bush caps his pen after signing the North American Free Trade Agreement at the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington D.C., in December 1992. Looking on are Mexican Ambassador Gustavo Petricioli, left, U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills and Canadian Ambassador Derek Burney. (Robert Giroux / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Aftermath of an assassination attempt

    An Iraqi resident walks through the rubble of his home in Baghdad in June 1993 after a U.S. cruise missile strike on Iraqi intelligence headquarters.The attack was in retaliation for an alleged Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George Bush in Kuwait in April. (Karim Sahib / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Handover handshake

    Bush shakes hands with President-elect Bill Clinton in November 1992 as Clinton leaves the White House after a meeting about the transition between administrations. (Luke Frazza / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. 41 congratulates 43

    President George W. Bush is hugged by his father after the younger Bush was sworn into office Jan. 20, 2001, on the South Front of the U.S. Capitol. (Luke Frazza / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Vlad to see you!

    Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcomed by Bush and former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III on his arrival in Houston, Texas, in November 2001. Putin delivered a speech at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. A two-term son

    Florida Governor Jeb Bush looks at early election results with his father and mother in a Miami hotel in November 2002. Bush, 49, became the first Republican Florida governor to win reelection. (Carl Juste / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Rivals no more

    Former Presidents Bush and Clinton are briefed by officials at a water purifying project in Sri Lanka in February 2005. l Clinton and Bush were on a four-nation tour of tsunami-hit countries, one of several aid projects the two have done together. (Findlay Kember / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. You daredevil, you

    Bush rides tandem with a member of the U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute team as he celebrates his 85th birthday with a jump, Friday, June 12, 2009, over Kennebunkport, Maine. (SSG Joe Abeln / Army Golden Knights via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Honored by Obama

    President Obama congratulates Bush after presenting him with the 2010 Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House February 15, 2011. Obama awarded the medal to twelve pioneers in sports, labor, politics and arts. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. All the President's socks

    Former President George H.W. Bush wears American flag socks on April 17, 2013 as he presents roses to the new Houston Texans cheerleaders during a ceremony introducing the new squad at the team's NFL football training facility in Houston. GW Bush has always had a penchant for colorful socks. (Smiley N. / Houston Chronicle via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Historic day

    From left, President Barack Obama, former president George W. Bush, former president William J. Clinton former President George H.W. Bush and former president Jimmy Carter arrive for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on April 25, 2013, in Dallas. (David J. Phillip / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Marking 90

    Former President George H.W. Bush, strapped to Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott, a retired member of the Army's Golden Knights parachute team, prepare to land on the lawn at St. Anne's Episcopal Church while celebrating Bush's 90th birthday in Kennebunkport, Maine, on June 12, 2014. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Showing solildarity

    Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush sits in Walker's Point, Maine as he joined members of his Secret Service detail in shaving his head on July 24, 2013after to show support for Patrick, (surname being withheld per family's request), the two year-old son of a detail member who is being treated for leukemia and started losing his hair. (Office of George Bush viaReuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Championships

    Former President George H.W. Bush is introduced during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game between Duke and North Carolina State at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., on January 18, 2014. (Gerry Broome / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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