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‘The proudest father in the whole wide world’: Letters from George H.W. Bush

“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 t
/ Source: TODAY books

“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"?) Devotedly, Gampy

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? Love, 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, George

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.