The prag­matic pres­i­dent

Long life of pub­lic ser­vice brought Bush to Va. of­ten

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREW CAIN

Vir­ginia coursed through Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s long life of pub­lic ser­vice, from his World War II flight train­ing in Vir­ginia Beach, to his ser­vice as CIA di­rec­tor at Lan­g­ley, to his dozens of speak­ing en­gage­ments in the state, boost­ing GOP po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, the mil­i­tary and char­i­ties.

As the na­tion’s 41st pres­i­dent, Bush presided over an ed­u­ca­tion sum­mit in Septem­ber 1989 that drew the na­tion’s gover­nors to the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia.

Bush also left an in­deli­ble im­age dur­ing an Oc­to­ber 1992 pres­i­den­tial

de­bate at the Uni­ver­sity of Rich­mond. As Bush faced off with Demo­crat Bill Clin­ton and in­de­pen­dent H. Ross Perot, pho­tog­ra­phers cap­tured Bush glanc­ing at his watch. Fairly or un­fairly, it gave some view­ers the im­pres­sion that the pres­i­dent was ea­ger for the de­bate to end.

Bush, who died Fri­day night in Hous­ton at the age of 94, also had strong per­sonal ties to Rich­mond. His son Marvin and his grand­daugh­ter Jenna Bush Hager mar­ried Rich­mon­ders.

Gov. Ralph Northam or­dered the U.S. and Vir­ginia flags fly­ing over the state Capi­tol and through­out the state to be at half-staff for 30 days in Bush’s mem­ory.

“Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush led a re­mark­able life, marked by his de­vo­tion to his beloved wife Barbara, com­mit­ment to pub­lic ser­vice, and un­wa­ver­ing de­cency to oth­ers,” Northam said in a state­ment. “May we all take a page from his book.”

In state­ments on Satur­day, Vir­ginia’s Demo­cratic U.S. sen­a­tors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, called Bush “a model of dig­nity” in pub­lic ser­vice and “a class act.”

Kaine said: “Whether fly­ing 58 com­bat mis­sions in World War II, sign­ing the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act, or bring­ing the Cold War to a peace­ful end, he car­ried his ac­com­plish­ments with un­par­al­leled hu­mil­ity. He lived a long life de­voted to his coun­try, dy­ing old and full of days.”

Warner said: “Ge­orge H.W. Bush was a class act — a per­son of tremen­dous strength and moral char­ac­ter who ex­em­pli­fied the val­ues of pub­lic ser­vice. There can be no ques­tion that his high­est com­mit­ment was al­ways to our coun­try and to our val­ues — to jus­tice, free­dom, and the rights of hu­man be­ings ev­ery­where.”

Among Bush’s many po­lit­i­cal ap­pear­ances in Vir­ginia was a 1973 ad­dress to Vir­ginia’s GOP state con­ven­tion. Bush, then chair­man of the Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, said the GOP was “alive and well” de­spite the Water­gate scan­dal.

He would be­come a pop­u­lar speaker at Vir­ginia’s col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

Bush ad­dressed grad­u­ates at Ran­dolph-Ma­con Col­lege in 1976 when he was CIA di­rec­tor. As vice pres­i­dent, he de­liv­ered com­mence­ment speeches in 1981 at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia and in 1985 at Ham­p­den-Sydney Col­lege.

As pres­i­dent, he spoke to grad­u­ates in 1990 at Lib­erty Uni­ver­sity and in 1991 at Hamp­ton Uni­ver­sity. As an ex-pres­i­dent he ad­dressed Col­lege of Wil­liam & Mary grad­u­ates in 1995 and de­liv­ered a lecture in 1996 at Vir­ginia Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute.

Rich­mond ties

Bush re­ceived the Distin­guished Fly­ing Cross af­ter Ja­panese forces shot down his tor­pedo bomber in the Pa­cific in Septem­ber 1944. A year later, Bush and his new wife, Barbara, re­lo­cated to Vir­ginia Beach. Bush had been as­signed to a tor­pedo bomber squadron train­ing at Oceana Naval Air Sta­tion for an as­sault on Ja­pan that never came. Ge­orge and Barbara Bush joined throngs in the streets of Vir­ginia Beach cel­e­brat­ing V-J Day, mark­ing the vic­tory over Ja­pan.

Fol­low­ing his mil­i­tary ser­vice, Bush was a re­cur­ring pres­ence in Rich­mond for decades. Rich­mond’s FitzGer­ald Be­miss, a for­mer Demo­cratic mem­ber of the state Se­nate, was a life­long friend of Bush, be­gin­ning in their child­hood when their fam­i­lies took sum­mer va­ca­tions to Maine.

Bush and Be­miss were mem­bers of each other’s wed­ding par­ties, and in 2011 the for­mer pres­i­dent at­tended Be­miss’ fu­neral at Rich­mond’s St. James’s Epis­co­pal Church.

In Oc­to­ber 1988, weeks be­fore Bush was elected pres­i­dent, Be­miss penned a col­umn for the Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch, ti­tled, “My Friend Ge­orge Bush.”

Be­miss noted that Bush en­rolled at Yale once he was dis­charged from the mil­i­tary. Bush played first base for the Bull­dogs’ base­ball team, which trav­eled to Vir­ginia in the spring of 1947 for the Uni­ver­sity of Rich­mond’s sea­son opener. Bush and sev­eral Yale team­mates stayed with Be­miss’ fam­ily in Rich­mond.

“Ge­orge tripped on the top step of our big spi­ral stair­case and crashed through the rail­ing at the bot­tom,” Be­miss wrote. “No harm to Bush; con­sid­er­able harm to the stair­case.”

UR beat Yale 8-7, but Bush got two hits in four times at bat. A pho­to­graph in The Times­Dis­patch of April 1, 1947, de­picts UR’s Jack Null div­ing back to first base on a pick­off play, ahead of Bush’s tag.

Bush’s son Marvin grad­u­ated from Wood­berry For­est, an Epis­co­pal prep school in Orange County, and the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia. In 1981 he mar­ried Mar­garet Con­way Mol­ster of Rich­mond, a grad­u­ate of St. Cather­ine’s School and U.Va. Two fu­ture pres­i­dents — Bush and his son Ge­orge W. Bush — came to Rich­mond for the wed­ding at St. James’s Epis­co­pal.

The bride’s mother said the Bushes were down to earth, but she no­ticed one ef­fect of her daugh­ter mar­ry­ing the vice pres­i­dent’s youngest son. “We didn’t have very many re­grets to the reception.”

In a 1989 story in The Times­Dis­patch, when the el­der

Bush was pres­i­dent, Mol­ster’s younger sis­ter, Jane, at­tested to his kind­ness. She re­lated that Bush “was nice to her even when she threw up over the side of his yacht.”

The pres­i­dent’s grand­daugh­ter Jenna Bush Hager is mar­ried to Henry Hager, a Rich­mon­der who grad­u­ated from St. Christo­pher’s School and U.Va.


Many of Bush’s Vir­ginia ap­pear­ances seemed to re­flect lessons his par­ents taught him: ser­vice, mod­esty — of­ten re­flected in self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mor — and loy­alty.

On April 2, 1981, three days af­ter John Hinck­ley Jr. tried to as­sas­si­nate Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan, Bush kept his com­mit­ment to at­tend a fundraiser in Tysons Cor­ner for J. Mar­shall Cole­man, Vir­ginia’s Re­pub­li­can can­di­date for gover­nor, who would lose the con­test to Demo­crat Charles S. Robb. It was the vice pres­i­dent’s first stop out­side Wash­ing­ton since the as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt.

Bush said it was a “try­ing week for the coun­try” but that he had vis­ited Rea­gan in the hospi­tal the day be­fore and that the pres­i­dent looked “swell.”

In 1995, Bush, then a for­mer pres­i­dent, at­tended a fundrais­ing reception in Rich­mond for U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., a long­time friend. Warner was un­der fire from some Repub­li­cans for his re­fusal to back Oliver L. North, the 1994 GOP nom­i­nee for U.S. Se­nate. Bush showed up even though the state GOP had asked him to stay out of the con­test.

Warner would turn back a nom­i­na­tion chal­lenge by James C. Miller III, for­mer bud­get di­rec­tor in the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In May 1981, Bush, then vice pres­i­dent, gave the com­mence­ment speech at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia. He cracked a joke about his son Marvin, who was in the grad­u­at­ing class, along with his fu­ture daugh­ter-in-law.

“This is a marvelous day in your lives, one that you’ve been look­ing for­ward to for at least four years,” Bush told grad­u­ates. “I say ‘at least’ be­cause in the case of our son Marvin, he got so car­ried away with aca­demic pur­suits here at Char­lottesville that he some­how man­aged to com­press four years of school­ing into five.”

In April 1990, ac­cord­ing to

The As­so­ci­ated Press, the pres­i­dent took part in a golf out­ing on the Marine Corps base at Quan­tico. Af­ter­ward, the pres­i­dent thanked Marine Capt. Dianne Davis of Spot­syl­va­nia County for help­ing him read putts. He signed his score card: “Cer­ti­fied to be al­most true. Thanks for the les­son, Ge­orge Bush.”

In Jan­uary 2009, both Pres­i­dents Bush vis­ited the Norfolk Naval Base, where Bush 43 com­mis­sioned the air­craft car­rier named for Bush 41.

In an ap­pear­ance at the Rich­mond Fo­rum in 1994, the el­der Bush said the econ­omy was the key rea­son that he lost the 1992 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, “the per­cep­tion that we were still in re­ces­sion.” He also con­trasted two of his ap­pear­ances in Rich­mond.

He said of the 1947 base­ball game at UR: “I think we won, and that was fun.” (Ac­tu­ally, the Spi­ders edged Yale.)

As for the 1992 de­bate at UR, Bush said: “That was not fun.”

“Ge­orge H.W. Bush was a class act — a per­son of tremen­dous strength and moral char­ac­ter who ex­em­pli­fied the val­ues of pub­lic ser­vice. There can be no ques­tion that his high­est com­mit­ment was al­ways to our coun­try and to our val­ues — to jus­tice, free­dom, and the rights of hu­man be­ings ev­ery­where.” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.


Dur­ing his sin­gle term as pres­i­dent, Ge­orge H.W. Bush, who died Fri­day at 94, saw his pop­u­lar­ity soar af­ter vic­tory in the Per­sian Gulf War but sink as eco­nomic woes set in.


For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush and for­mer first lady Barbara Bush looked on dur­ing a cer­e­mony for the Ge­orge H.W. Bush air­craft car­rier on July 8, 2006, in New­port News. Next to the 41st U.S. pres­i­dent was Mike Pet­ters, then the pres­i­dent of Northrop Grum­man New­port News.

Ge­orge H.W. Bush walked past an honor guard as he ar­rived at Vir­ginia Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute in Lex­ing­ton on April 24, 1996.

Ge­orge H.W. Bush (left) and his son, then-Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, waved af­ter the USS Ge­orge H.W. Bush was com­mis­sioned in Norfolk on Jan. 10, 2009. Tim Kaine (right), then the gover­nor, also at­tended.

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