Bush family friends share intimate, one-of-a-kind memories
In a 2016 letter to Lily and Charles Foster, former president George H. W. Bush wrote: “The Fosters and Bushes have been friends for decades, and one thing we have always known about you is that your life’s mission is to ‘do your part’.”
The letter bears witness to the Fosters’ friendship with the Bush family over the years.
Lily, a Chinese actress previously known as Chen Ye, took her son and parents to lay flowers at the statue of Bush in downtown Houston the day she heard the news of his death. The sculpture is the result of Charles’ efforts, a testament to his admiration for Bush and their friendship.
Charles Foster began to develop a substantial relationship with Bush due to a shared interest in China-US relations after Bush left the White House and settled in Houston.
“I was long term chairman at the Asia Society Texas Center, and to me Asia was all about China. I was delighted that, because of Bush, it was easier to invite high level Chinese officials to Houston. I made it a regular habit to arrange meetings with Bush,” Foster said.
That relationship enabled Foster to invite Chinese President Jiang Zemin to Houston in 2002 when Jiang got an invitation to President George W. Bush’s ranch in Waco, Texas. Jiang met with Bush in Houston and the gathering was a great victory for Foster.
Remembering Bush, Foster said: “Bush always carried that Northeastern personality, always polite and unfailingly a gentleman in terms of how he treated people. At an event I organized, he went into the kitchen to call [the staff ] over for a group photo.
“There is no tragedy when one has lived such a long, incredible, purposeful and accomplished life, has lived fully until the very end and still being loved and respected by all, even his former political rivals.
“History will continue to be kind to President Bush and his accomplishments, particularly in foreign policy, which will guarantee that he and his presidency will continue to gain in stature,” Foster said of Bush’s passing.
Lily Foster had interacted with President Bush more on a personal level. Sometimes her directness, much like Barbara Bush’s, broke through President Bush’s wall of formality.
When Charles first proposed the idea of a statue of Bush, Bush remained ambivalent for months. At a reception, Lily, seated next to Bush, asked him: “Mr. President, Charles wants to make a statue of you for Houston, how come you won’t give him permission?”
The point-blank question drew an immediate response. Bush replied: “Damn it, I can’t say yes, I’m still alive. If they want to do it, go ahead, don’t ask me.”
“Charles and President Bush were both too polite and they had gotten stuck. I helped them to get over that,” Lily said.
She also helped Bush track down his favorite Beijing duck chef in Houston.
When he was US Envoy to China, Bush developed a taste for the dish. In the 1990s, the famous Quanjude Beijing Roast Duck had opened a branch in Houston.
“I immediately told him about it. He dined there a couple of times and liked the chef a lot. However, later the chef went to another Chinese restaurant. I told Bush 41 about it so he would know where to find his favorite Beijing Duck. One time he said to me: ‘Lily, you have to keep tracking that chef and let me know where he is,’” she recalled.