This week, many of us took a moment to say goodbye to one of our beloved and iconic Houstonians, former President George H. W. Bush, also known as “41.”
President Bush and his wife, Barbara, lived in many places throughout their long lives and it is evident that everywhere they went, they touched hearts and made a difference.
The Bush couple loved many things about Houston, most notably the Astros, Memorial Park, BBQ and, especially, Houston’s children.
More than a few Houstonians met them or encountered the couple and their Secret Service entourage quite unexpectedly over the years, and the stories they tell about these encounters paint a picture of a gracious couple, humanitarians and folks who consistently said “Yes.”
Memorial Park Conservancy CEO Shellye Arnold said, “President Bush and Barbara were huge users and fans of Memorial Park. Their grandson, Pierce Bush, was on our Conservancy Board of Directors. There is a place in the park called ‘George and Barbara Bush Presidential Grove’ in their honor.” Arnold placed a wreath in Bush Grove on Saturday.
Shortly after the Memorial Park Golf Course was renovated in 1995, a group of community-focused individuals and corporations came together to honor President and Mrs. Bush with a landscaped area adjacent to two Memorial Park amenities they enjoyed: the Memorial Park Golf Course and the Seymour Lieberman Exer-Trail. The George and Barbara Bush Presidential Grove was dedicated on Oct. 29, 1996, with both in attendance, and the landscaped area honors the couple’s deep ties to Houston. The George and Barbara Bush Presidential Grove contains a water feature, flagpole, benches and planted beds.
Our neighbor Alison Groth shared a particularly fond memory:
“Former President George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, were members of the same church as my family. One year, at the Christmas Eve service, President and Mrs. Bush entered the church, flanked by their Secret Service detail, and walked down the aisle to their seats. Naturally, a respectful hush came over the crowd as we watched them. When they walked past our pew, my father, who was sitting closest to the aisle, leaned over to my young nephew beside him and asked him, ‘Do you know who that is?’ My nephew, who had been studying politics in the fourth grade that year, loudly and quite seriously replied, ‘Yes sir, I do. That is Mayor Bob Lanier.’ Bits of laughter erupted all around us. President Bush turned his head back and smiled. Mrs. Bush chuckled and the Secret Service men’s shoulders moved up and down with their laughter. Later, my father said that my nephew’s mistake was a compliment to both men.”
Sandy Francis recounts a special memory: “I worked for many years as an airline agent for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines at IAH. After he no longer used Air Force One, GHWB flew back and forth to Europe several times with us. On one of those trips his golf bag and golf clubs were mistakenly left off the plane in Amsterdam and would therefore not be here upon his arrival in Houston. We were mortified. As my assignment that day was to work in the baggage area, my supervisor accompanied me to deliver the bad news about the golf clubs. Mr. and Mrs. Bush arrived along with their entourage and carts of baggage. Everything went well. As they were all leaving the customs area for their cars, my supervisor broke the news of the missing golf clubs. He said we would need to file a missing bag report and he needed to get some information. Poor guy. We knew exactly where those golf clubs were. They were coming in on our next Amsterdam flight. All I needed was a delivery address. But the supervisor wanted to do everything ‘by the book.’ He attempted to sign into the computer to take the report, but he seldom actually did this and became nervous. So what did he do? He did as we all do and stalled for time while he figured something out on the computer. I stood there shocked.”
Supervisor (asking the group): “Ummm, can you please give me a description of the missing piece by looking at this chart? (type type type on the keyboard)”
Mrs. Bush calmly leaned forward and said softly, “They are the ones with the presidential seal on them.”
Francis continued: “I leaned over at this point and said that all I needed was a delivery address. The clubs would arrive the next day. Mrs. Bush smiled, nodded approvingly to me and gave me to her secretary. I loved her.”
Brandolyn Moore shared perhaps the most touching story: “My condolences to the Bush family. My father, Bobby Moore, and former President Bush had been friends long before his presidency. I remember this day like it was yesterday when we met with him for the War on Drugs.
“I also remember how supportive he and Barbara were when my father was in the late stages of cancer, and at the time former President Bush was president and living in the White House. We frequently received a call from the White House telling us the president was getting ready to call my dad and to have him answer the phone. When he was unable to come, he sent his son Neil to check on my dad. He was a great person full of compassion, a great friend to my dad and a great president. In the book ‘George Bush: The Life of A Lone Star Yankee,’ you can read the story about former President Bush sponsoring the first black girls youth softball team in Houston’s Acres Homes community that my dad managed called ‘The George Bush Allstars.’ ”
Shelley Castellesse Gafford shared: “He was my first president as an adult. Big impact. I was at a Houston Astros game a couple of years ago and we were sitting in the section before him. He and Barbara were in the owner’s area. I stood up and yelled, ‘Hello President Bush!’ He heard me and they waved and said hello. What other president would give a loud-mouthed person a simple wave and hello? Made my day!”
Jason Holcombe remembered: “I used to go to Ottos BBQ back in the day for lunch at 10:30 a.m. when it opened. First time I met the Bushes I was sitting at a table by myself, the only person in the place, and Secret Service asked me to move because I was sitting right next to the booth they usually sit in. I moved and as I was leaving, 41 and Mrs. Barbara called me over and said, ‘Thank you,’ and said that was not their rule! Over the next year, I saw them a couple more times and each time they said hello and laughed about it. Special people!”