Our Better Angels: Remembering President George H.W. Bush
Today, our nation honors President George Herbert Walker Bush and his lifetime of public service. By now, most Americans are familiar with his extraordinary and continuous service to others – to his family as a father and husband; to the cause of freedom as a decorated World War II veteran; and to our nation as Ambassador to the United Nations, Director of the CIA, Congressman, Vice-President, and President. Given the bitterness and divisiveness of politics in 2018 America, many people may be surprised to hear near universal praise, by friends and opponents, of a man lauded for his decency, kindness, and honor. His gentle and polite way with people of all walks of life provides us with a lifetime of teaching moments and reminds us of a time when disagreement over policy didn’t go hand-in-hand with incivility and discord.
Much has been said about President Bush’s penchant for writing notes and letters not just to friends, but to practically anyone who wrote him. In 2006, wanting President Bush to have a copy of my first book, Rescuing da Vinci, about his fellow World War II veterans, I arranged through a mutual acquaintance for it to be hand-delivered. Just knowing he had received it left me with a feeling of satisfaction. Much to my surprise, several weeks later I received a letter from him. “Your mission to get proper recognition for the Monuments Men is a noble one,” he wrote, "and I wish you well.” It was the first of several letters I would receive from occupants of the White House, but the one that always meant the most.
During his term in office, President Bush welcomed Monuments Man – and world renowned sculptor – Walker Hancock to the White House. Hancock had been selected to sculpt a bust of the President that would be housed in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol to commemorate his service, during his two terms as Vice President, as presiding officer of the Senate. After being shown to his overnight accommodation – the Lincoln Bedroom – Walker joined the First Lady for lunch. Later that day, Walker was ushered into the Oval Office for his appointment with the President, caliper and camera in hand. One hundred-twenty-five photographs later, the two men joined the First Lady for a quiet dinner.
Subsequent trips to Washington followed; a lasting friendship was formed. Departing the White House after his final visit, an orderly handed Walker a pair of red velvet slippers decorated with the Presidential Seal. Accompanying them was a handwritten note from the President:
“To Walker Hancock. Subject: Feet. Your feet, I notice, are smaller than my clodhoppers. It occurs to me that these slippers, too small for me might fit you. I hope so. All yours. George Bush.”
I pray the recognition of all this fine man did for our nation, and the world, will quell the rancor and divisiveness of our times and serve to inspire our political leaders and, in fact, every citizen to follow in his footsteps.