TODAY senior producer Karen Trosset has worked on numerous projects with Jenna Bush Hager and the Bush family. In her own words, she remembers President George H.W. Bush.
Jenna Bush Hager has been a special correspondent for TODAY since 2009. She has covered education, Haiti, two Olympics and a myriad of well-loved global icons. I had the opportunity and privilege to work with her on many of those stories. But as Jenna has said time and again, for her, the most meaningful reports she has done for NBC News have been those on her family. In particular, stories of her beloved grandfather, for whom she now mourns along with our nation and the world.
As a producer, I had the opportunity to spend time with President Bush covering some special occasions — his 88th birthday, his 90th birthday and the release of his son’s book about his dad. But a visit to cover Jenna's grandfather might easily be mistaken with that of a trip home to visit a friend's family. There was always a warm welcome from the Bushes and their team at Walker Point in Kennebunkport, Maine. "So nice to see you, welcome back" from Mrs. Bush, a big hug from the President's long-time aide Jean Becker — who has faithfully worked for the Bush family for more than thirty years — and always a big hello from President Bush himself, who made sure to shake hands with each member of our crew.
Jenna sat down with her grandfather and he shared stories much like ones shared around the dinner table of every American. There was a lot of laughter. Tears too. He spoke of his second chance at life, having survived that day when his plane was shot down in WW II. He would always tear up talking about "that fine lass," Barbara, his dear wife of more than seventy years. President Bush told us he kissed her good night each and every night. It was sometimes a challenge, he said, because Mrs. Bush would arrive with her little white dog that took up way too much room in the bed and had a nasty habit of nipping at President Bush when he got too close.
But the room always grew silent and thoughtful when he spoke of his time as President of the United States. In each conversation, he spoke with humility of the honor he felt to have served his country in the Oval Office.
As President Bush aged, he did so publicly and unapologetically, refusing to allow advancing years to hold him back. The skydiving jumps began as a birthday celebration on his 75th and kept on going even on his 90th birthday. Jenna was there asking the questions that only a granddaughter could ask. Was he afraid to die? No, he said, it's a part of life. Who would he look forward to seeing in heaven? His daughter Robin who died of leukemia at age three. It was a tragedy that never left him, a most precious memory that always brought tears. The gratitude and love he felt for his family was evident. Despite all he had achieved in his life, he viewed his family as one of his greatest accomplishments and his greatest gift.
Always behind the scenes, watching and protecting, was his fiercely loyal team of Secret Service agents.
In July 2013, a photo went viral of President Bush with a shaved head holding a little boy with a shaved head. That little boy is the son of one of President Bush's agents who was fighting a brave battle against cancer. When the president saw that the agents had all shaved their heads in solidarity with the little boy, he grabbed a razor and joined in without hesitation. When I asked an agent for an interview that day, the answer was no. It’s always a no, they don’t speak to the press. But then, this big, burly guy, as tough as they come, fought back the tears in his eyes, lowered his voice and whispered: "He is a truly great man. Like no other."
News reports the world over will remember President George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States. Tributes will pour in for his distinguished service to our country. And so, Jenna, from your TODAY family, our thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family, for the loss of the man we came to know as your beloved grandfather.
Thank you for sharing your "Gamps" with us.