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Op-Ed: Northern Kentuckian Remembers Sweet Meeting with Bushes in Rose Garden

In this time of political vitriol, anger and rage, America rarely mourns the loss of its governmental leaders. Tears shed for those dedicating their lives to public service were things our parents spoke about with generational poignance.  In our lifetime, there were those we supported, admired and followed. But, most often, unless we had a personal connection, we accepted their death with respectful reverence. Tears for fallen leaders was the stuff of a time past.

Yet, when America heard the news of President George H.W. Bush passing into the hands of the Father, we heard the collective gasp of a nation truly saddened by his death. Like many others across the country, my wife and I cried.

The resume of George Herbert Walker Bush was one of the greatest in American history. A World War II ace, he was a businessman turned politician that turned losing campaigns into greater victories. A loss for Senate led to a win for the House. A loss for the Republican presidential nomination led to him sharing the 1980 and 1984 ticket with Ronald Reagan, and his eventual Presidential victory in 1988.

But it was not a resume that made “41” so memorable. It was simply him.

In George Bush’s inaugural speech, he said, "America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world." Many opponents mocked the statement, but Bush was a leader with a moral compass guiding his public and private life. The “Kinder/Gentler” President ended the Cold War.

My wife Linda and I were lucky enough to be working in Washington during the term of President Bush and when we heard the news of his death, we recalled the day we attended a Rose Garden Ceremony celebrating the World Series Wire-to-Wire Cincinnati Reds.

Like others in the audience, I had a baseball in the pocket of my suit, spying which Redleg I wanted to approach first for an autograph.  When the ceremony was over, the President did not retreat to the Oval Office. Instead, he invited the team to stand behind the Presidential Seal with him.  He may have been the President, but was also a baseball fan.

As we waited for the team to leave the podium, First Dog Millie Bush appeared. Linda was playing with Millie when a familiar voice instructed her to rub the cocker spaniel’s belly. It was Barbara Bush. Fearing the Secret Service would tackle us for playing with the Presidential pup, we immediately straightened up and apologized. The First lady would have none of it and insisted we show Millie all the attention she wanted.

Linda reached into my coat pocket and grabbed the baseball. Her ask for the First Lady’s autograph, drew a puzzled look. “I don’t think I’ve ever signed one before,” she replied.

As Mrs. Bush pondered the baseball, we heard another familiar voice. “What ya doin’, Bar?”  It was the President, who then went about explaining how to sign a baseball on the sweet spot. We ended up talking baseball, dogs, and have a Bush and Bush autographed baseball as a memory.

The effort was nothing special for them, because it was their nature. And that is why so many shed a tear when the news hit the airwaves. We are not alone in remembering a story Bush family kindness.

During their time in the White House, parents that lost children got letters from the First Family explaining how they too had lost a daughter. People who visited the White House were often greeted personally by the home’s residents.  White House employees of the era have photos of the Leader of the Free World on the floor playing with their children and grandchildren.

George Bush gained our respect by his enduring optimism in us as Americans. Despite any differing philosophical views, he believed in us and we in him.

The decency of President George H.W Bush continued until the end.

Hours before Bush died, his old Texas pal (and former Secretary of State) James Baker came to visit.

Bush woke from a sound sleep and looked at his friend. “Where are we going, Bake?” he asked.

“We’re going to Heaven,” Baker answered.

“That’s where I want to go,” Bush replied.

God’s speed, Mr. President.

Rick Robinson’s latest novel, The Promise of Cedar Key may be found at Joseph Beth in Crestview Hills and on Amazon.

Photo via Wiki Commons