Former president George H.W. Bush has spent his life keeping an old-fashioned art alive: The heart-felt handwritten letter.
In “All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings,’’ the former president reveals missives penned during his time overseas in World War II, political memos to royalty and and his declarations of love for his wife and family. His granddaughter, TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager, sat down with people on the receiving end of cherished notes from the 41st president.
“Let's see Bar — 42 years ago this minute I was a nervous wreck — you, too, maybe,’’ former First Lady Barbara Bush read from a letter in a TODAY segment that aired Tuesday. “Anyway, here we are 42 years later, and I am a very happy guy — the luckiest in the world, actually. I have a skinny, miles-walking wife. We have a lot of friends, no real enemies, though there are some who aren't exactly rooting hard for us. We have quiet faith that gives us strength, so when we count our blessings we've got to count on a long, long time."
Bush’s son, former president George W. Bush, read aloud from a letter he got from his father during a difficult time in his presidency.
“You are doing the right thing,’’ the letter reads. “Your decision, just made, is the toughest decision you've had to make up until now. Maybe it helps a tiny bit as you face the toughest bunch of problems any president since Lincoln has faced: You carry the burden with strength and grace.’’
The elder Bush had light-hearted moments during his own time in office, evidenced in a short note to his former press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater.
“CNN uses a picture of me that is printed backwards — hair parted on the right,’’ Fitzwater read from the letter. “It’s weird. Weirder than I really am.’’
His son Neil Bush expressed his dad's paternal worries and pride.
“I guess what I want you to know as a father is this: Every human life is precious,'' Neil read. "When the question is asked, ‘How many lives are you willing to sacrifice?’ — it tears at my heart. The answer, of course, is none — none at all. And so I shall say a few more prayers, mainly for our kids in the Gulf. And I shall do what must be done, and I shall be strengthened every day by our family love which lifts me up every single day of my life. I am the luckiest dad in the whole wide world.’’
The book also details unlikely friendships, like the one with former president Bill Clinton, who defeated Bush in the 1992 presidential election.
“This note is to simply let you know that I so appreciated your words about our relationship, about our friendship,’’ Clinton read from a letter on TODAY. “It was from your heart — I hope you know I feel the same way.
“The politics between now and two years from now might put pressure on our friendship, but it is my view that it will survive. In any event, I have genuinely enjoyed working with you."
Bush also talks about getting older.
“I am a very happy Gampy,’’ granddaughter Lauren Bush Lauren read from a letter. “My legs don't bend too well. As you know I have had to give up fly fishing off the rocks, but there is plenty left to do, plenty of wonderful things.’’
His essays have inspired students at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. All of the proceeds from the book go to benefit the school. The students recently honored the oldest living former president in the most modern of ways — with a flash mob.
“What did you think of the flash mob, Gamps?’’ Bush Hager asked.
“Of all the flash mobs I’ve seen, this was the very best,’’ he joked; it was his first.
“How are you feeling?’’ she asked.
“I feel like a million bucks,’’ Bush replied.
Bush, 88, has endured health problems that included a two-month stay in a Texas hospital that ended in January.
“Remember this old song? ‘I'll be there ready when you are,'" he read from one of his own letters. "Well, I'll be there ready when you are. There's so much excitement ahead. So many grandkids to watch grow. If you need me, I'm here."