41st president considered ‘Greenwich as home and friends’
GREENWICH — To the world he was “Mr. President.” In later years, after his own son acquired that title, he became “41” or “H.W.”
Congressman, CIA director, envoy to China, ambassador to the United Nations.
George Herbert Walker Bush wore all of those titles in a political career of uncommon accomplishment.
Before them all, he was simply “Poppy” to family and friends in Greenwich.
Bush died Friday at the age of 94 — less than eight months after his
wife, Barbara Bush.
Not exactly a native son — he was born in Milton, Mass., on June 12, 1924 — George H.W. Bush came to Greenwich as an infant. He grew up here, the second oldest of five siblings in a 1903 Victorian with a wraparound porch at 15 Grove Lane.
“I think of Greenwich as home and friends,” Bush told Greenwich Time before the 1980 New Hampshire presidential primary,
won by eventual GOP nominee and running mate Ronald Reagan. “The change is amazing. I guess I remember Greenwich as more of a village ... the Pickwick Theater, the Franklin Simon store and the railroad station. When I was in high school, we used to go on the train a lot to go to hockey games.”
He was named for his maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker, who lived here for many years. Dorothy Bush, the president’s mother, called her father “Pop.” Her son became “Poppy.”
In Greenwich, the future leader of the free world got his first taste of government service, watching his father moderate the Representative Town Meeting.
It was here that a young boy’s brashness was sanded off, in lessons that could sting, and a Yankee humility instilled that would set him apart from Washington circles and endear him to millions of Americans.
And it was in Greenwich that leadership qualities first took root and began to grow, qualities that would carry him to acclaim on the playing field and in the military, and to the most powerful seat on the planet.
His parents sent the young George, by limousine, to Greenwich Country Day School, where a note from his fifth-grade teacher on his report card proved to be prophetic.
“One day, Bush will become a leader,” the teacher wrote.
“I think they thought it was a great school, and they proved to be right,” Bush said of his parents during a 2009 interview with Country Day Headmaster Adam Rohdie at Bush’s home in Kennebunkport, Maine. “They liked what they saw, they liked the teachers. It was a great experience for us.”
It was at Country Day that the young Bush first displayed the athletic ability for which he would become known. His favorite sports were soccer, football and baseball.
“I just couldn’t wait to get out there when the games would start,” he told Rohdie.
Some of his earliest life lessons were learned through sports, many of which came from his coach at Country Day, Unc Hillard.
“I clipped some guy over at Rippowam, blind-sided him from behind,” reads a Bush quote on the school’s website. “And I remember to this day, Unc said, ‘That was a cowardly thing you did. Never hit a guy from behind.’ ”
Bush was not just a force on the playing fields. He sang in an a cappella group known as the Double Octets and was often called upon to introduce the songs, which he credited with helping his public speaking. There was one problem with singing, however.
“I couldn’t carry a tune,” he told Rohdie.
“We’d go to Greenwich Academy and they would say, ‘Now we will sing ‘Little Eyes, I love you,’ ” he recalled. “And I’d step back and sing, ‘Little eyes, I love you.’ I remember it very clearly. I don’t think I was officially ensconced as the leader, but none of the other kids wanted to do it. And I’ve never forgotten it.”
The patriarch of the political clan was Prescott Bush Sr., a Yaleeducated investment banker who honed his leadership skills as moderator of the RTM for 17 years before going on to serve in the U.S. Senate for 11 years.
“I was a late starter in politics because we weren’t such a political family when I was growing up,” Bush wrote in his 1988 memoir, “Leaning Forward.” “Dad was a Republican and was active in state party fundraising, but the subject of politics seldom came up at family gatherings. Once a week he would sit in as moderator of the Greenwich town meeting, but that was more of a civic than political commitment.”
The elder Bush, first elected to the Senate in 1952, became known for diplomatic talents that helped hold disparate factions of a fragmented Republican Party together, though among his noted acts was engineering Joseph McCarthy’s 1954 censure in the Senate. To this day, the state Republican Party’s highest honor is named for him.
George H.W. Bush, left, with his brother John at their home in Greenwich in the 1930s. George was 13 at the time and his brother was 6.
Official portrait of President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
The Bush Family, from left, sitting: Beth Bush, Prescott Jr., Nathon Bush, Dorothy Bush, Barbara Bush, Nancy Ellis; standing: William Bush, Prescott Sr., George and Alexander Ellis in Greenwich.
Clockwise from above, George H.W. Bush sits on a couch with his wife, Barbara, and their children in 1964; shares a golf cart with Barbara and their dog, Millie, in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 2004; and laughs during his re-election campaign in 1992.