A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS: Here’s How Celebrities, Athletes And Advisers Remember George H.W. Bush

Dana Cook | Freelance writer
COKE FETCHER

Lionel Hampton, jazz musician and bandleader

With [Richard] Nixon out of politics, and [Nelson] Rockefeller dead, I started supporting George Bush, who I’d known since he was a teenager [in the late 1930s]. I was a friend of his father, Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, from way back and used to play at his campaign rallies. Young George used to get Coca-Colas for me.

I watched George Bush’s career. And when I needed help, he gave it to me. When I needed certain information about housing from HUD in Washington, D.C., he saw that I got it. At the time he was head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican Party. I followed his career, kept up with every transition that he made, and when he announced that he was going to run for president [in 1980], I jumped on his campaign bandwagon. I played for his campaign a few times. Meanwhile, I got elected as a Bush delegate from New York.

HAMP: An Autobiography, by Lionel Hampton with James Haskins (Warner Communications, 1989)

DOWN TO EARTH

Carl Yastrzemski, baseball player

I didn’t play in the All-Star Game [in Cleveland] that year (1981), but George Bush, who was the vice president then, called and said he was in Kennebunkport, Maine, for the week.

“How’d you like to accompany me to the All-Star Game?” he asked.

I met him at an Air Force base and he led me onto the plane with Mrs. Bush. The whole first-class section was filled with electronic gadgets, consoles of computers, guys sitting there so they could keep in touch with President Reagan and any critical event anyplace in the world. Bush showed me his bedroom and sitting area. He had a chair on a track so he could slide across the whole “office” without getting out of his seat if he had to use the communications system during a bumpy flight.

He and Barbara were real down-to-earth people. I had bought a couple of Red Sox jackets and caps for the two of them.

Yaz: Baseball, the Wall, and Me, by Carl Yastrzemski with Gerald Eskenazi (Doubleday, 1990)

DOUBLES PARTNER

James Baker, former secretary of state and Republican presidential campaign chairman

I first met the man I have called “George,” “Bushie,” “Mr. President,” and now “Jefe” (the Spanish word for chief or boss) in 1959, when he moved his family (Barbara and their five children) and his business (Zapata Offshore Company) to Houston from Midland, Texas.

George and I shared a passion for tennis, and we became doubles partners at Houston Country Club—although I still preferred and continued to play singles. We were both extraordinarily weak servers, but George was excellent playing net and volleying, while I had very good groundstrokes. We complemented each other nicely and won back-to-back club doubles championships in 1966 and 1967.

George is genuinely personable, easygoing, and considerate of others—a truly wonderful human being—traits that come through in face-to-face meetings and on television. What sometimes doesn’t come through is his competitive spirit and steely determination, which I first encountered on the tennis court and which strengthened him for success in business and politics.

Work Hard, Study…and Keep Out of Politics!: Adventures and Lessons from an Unexpected Life, by James A. Baker III with Steve Fiffer (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006)

ELEGANT TEXAN

Karl Rove, Republican consultant and strategist

… to meet with RNC [Republican National Committee]  chairman George H.W. Bush in his office. I expected a quick visit. Instead the new chairman invited us in for a long talk. He touched on the controversy [within the College Republicans’ National Committee] and asked what we were going to do to heal rifts. He seemed genuinely interested in what our plans for the CRs were and encouraged us to think big. He talked plainly about the challenges the party faced as the Nixon White House’s [Watergate scandal] difficulties grew and public confidence in the administration shrank. He was generous with his time and supportive of our efforts.

I was struck by the gentility, calm, and evident integrity of this lanky Texan. There were flashes of toughness, too. … (Washington, D.C., 1972)

Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, by Karl Rove (Threshold Editions, 2010)

NOT INTO THE VISION THING

Ed Rollins, Republican political consultant

George Bush is an extraordinarily nice and generous man, decent and courteous, a master of the small gesture. He probably has more genuine friendships than anyone in politics, and I’ve never known anyone who could write as many thank-you notes…I’ve got a dozen notes from him myself, and he doesn’t even like me.

George Bush was an extraordinarily decent man who simply had no business being in the Oval Office. He was even more of an accidental president than Jerry Ford. Neither would ever have been president in their own right if not appointed vice president. He was a competent appointed official who made no waves and a perfectly cast vice president, but he had absolutely no vision, no core ideological values, and no real electoral strengths. In his amiable, slightly eccentric way, he did more than any other Republican to roll back the Reagan Revolution. Worst of all, he gave the country he loved to Bill Clinton. (1980s)

Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms: My Life in American Politics, by Ed Rollins with Tom Defrank (Broadway Books, 1996)

A MAN OF ACTION

Gail Sheehy, journalist and author

When I finally got a green light to interview the vice president [during the 1988 presidential election campaign], it was after he had barnstormed through three states in a twelve-hour day. His hair was mussed and his clothes were an incongruous combination of a banker’s pin-striped pants and a baseball jacket. I was ushered into his private cabin on Air Force Two and stood before him as the plane began rolling down the runway. Bush stretched out and put his stocking feet up on the couch.

“So is this gonna be a deal on where I’m coming from, a complete psychiatric layout?”

It was so Bush; there was almost nothing he avoided more assiduously than introspection…

Daring: My Passages, by Gail Sheehy William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2014)

FAMILY MAN

Andrei Sakharov, physicist and anti-nuclear activist

When I met Bush, I discussed the importance of an American undertaking not to initiate nuclear warfare. At the same time, the USSR should confirm its existing pledge of no first use in a constitutionally binding form. This would create an atmosphere of trust and facilitate arriving at strategic equilibrium in conventional weapons. …

Bush took a photograph out of his pocket—several generations of his family posed on some cliffs by the sea—and said, “Here’s the guarantee that we’ll never use nuclear weapons first. This is my family, my wife, children, and grandchildren. I don’t want them to die. No one on earth wants that.”

I replied, “If you’ll never make first use of nuclear weapons, you should announce that publicly, write it into law.” Bush was silent. (Washington, D.C., 1988)

— from Moscow and Beyond: 1986 to 1989, by Andrei Sakharov (Knopf, 1991)

FIRST BASEMAN

Marv Albert, sports broadcaster

In America today, it is amazing what they will let a sportscaster do. For instance, I interviewed President Bush in the Oval Office. This was for an NBC baseball pre-game show. Did you know that Bush started at first base all three years at Yale? He was good field, no hit. Did you know he played against Vin Scully? Did you know he once got a hit off Milt Pappas (in a celebrity game)? Did you also know he threw out the first pitch at a Houston Astros game and it bounced halfway to the plate? “Hey,” he said sheepishly, “it broke a little early.” He was awfully cordial. He even took my family on a tour of the White House. (1989)

I’d Love To But I Have A Game: 27 Years Without A Life, by Marv Albert with Rick Reilly (Doubleday, 1993)

CONVERSATIONALIST

Bo Derek, actor and horsewoman

I had met President George Herbert Walker Bush, the forty-first president, several times over the years. The first time was in the White House Oval Office in August 1990. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait, and America was preparing for what would become the Gulf War.

…Chief of Staff John Sununu came out and escorted us into the Oval Office and introduced us to President Bush.

The president invited me to sit in one of the chairs in front of the fireplace — the very chair that I have seen all the heavyweight world leaders sit in. President Bush was very friendly, and in the end I found myself sitting on the floor scratching First Dog Millie’s belly and discussing flea control with the president of the United States.

Riding Lessons: Everything That Matters in Life I Learned from Horses, by Bo Derek with Mark Seal (Regan Books/HarperCollins, 2002)

POLICY EXPERT

Bill O’Reilly, broadcaster

As for President George Herbert Walker Bush, I have corresponded with him over the years and can tell you the man understands more about how this world works than anyone else I know. Some left-wing writers have speculated that there is tension between the Bushes, that the father and son disagree on some important issues. I have not seen that. I promised to keep President Bush the elder’s comments to me private until he dies, and I will keep that promise. He has been kind enough to brief me when I need to know something important about policy, and I greatly appreciate that. As you probably understand, in a world full of deceit and spin, it is very tough to get to the truth of some matters. Having access to a patriot like President George H.W. Bush has, for me, made forming opinions on some vital issues much easier.

A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity, by Bill O’Reilly (Broadway Books, 2008)

Dana Cook’s collections of literary and political encounters have appeared in a wide range of newspapers, magazines and journals.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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