The late pres­i­dent is fondly re­called by San An­to­nio of­fi­cials.

Ge­orge H.W. Bush is re­mem­bered as be­ing ‘un­fail­ingly kind,’ ‘true Amer­i­can states­man’

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Dy­lan McGuin­ness STAFF WRITER

Dur­ing Joe Straus’ time in the Texas House, the re­tir­ing speaker and San An­to­nio state rep­re­sen­ta­tive said he kept one maxim in mind: “There could be no def­i­ni­tion of a suc­cess­ful life that does not in­clude ser­vice to oth­ers.”

It was ut­tered by for­mer Presi- dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, who Straus said he has known for most of his life. His mother, Joci Straus, had been a friend and sup­porter of Ge­orge and Barbara Bush since the 1960s.

“He in­spired my pub­lic ser­vice,” Straus said. “I’ve kept pic­tures of him in my of­fice here and in the Capi­tol so I would be con­stantly re­minded of what a true pub­lic ser­vant was.”

Straus was one of many elected of­fi­cials from San An­to­nio to cel­e­brate Bush’s life Satur­day. Mayor Ron Niren­berg called Bush “a true Amer­i­can states­man.” state Rep. Lyle Lar­son called him “one of the finest gentle­men we have ever had as our pres­i­dent.”

Con­gress­man Henry Cuel­lar, whose district in­cludes part of the Alamo City, said his “un­yield­ing lead­er­ship, com­mit­ment and servi­tude to his fam­ily and to our coun­try will be matched by none.”

A res­i­dent of Hous­ton, Bush also ce­mented a legacy in San An­to­nio and South-Cen­tral Texas. One of his land­mark ini­tia­tives as pres­i­dent was re­al­ized here, when Bush signed the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment in Oc­to­ber 1992.

The agree­ment later was rat­i­fied un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

“This meet­ing marks a turn­ing point in the his­tory of our three coun­tries,” Bush told the cer­e­mony’s au­di­ence then, gath­er­ing at the Plaza San An­to­nio Ho­tel Con­fer­ence Cen­ter with Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Car­los Sali­nas de Gor­tari and Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney. “We are cre­at­ing the largest, rich­est and most pro­duc­tive mar­ket in the en­tire world.”

His son Ge­orge W. Bush said in 1992 that the agree­ment would “change San An­to­nio for the bet­ter for a long time com­ing” and called the agree­ment “the sin­gle­most im­por­tant achieve­ment of

Ge­orge Bush’s pres­i­dency in re­gards to Texas.”

Straus, who had left his post at Bush’s Com­merce Depart­ment but helped with the ar­range­ments of the cer­e­mony, said it was im­por­tant to the pres­i­dent that it was held in San An­to­nio.

“As I re­call, it was some­thing that meant a lot to Pres­i­dent Bush. I think he very much wanted to have it here,” Straus said. “While there were some peo­ple who wanted him to have it in Hous­ton, I think he knew … that San An­to­nio was a much bet­ter cul­tural fit.”

In a twist, the three coun­tries signed a re­vised agree­ment ne­go­ti­ated by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ear­lier Fri­day, though each coun­try’s leg­is­la­ture still must ap­prove the deal. Trump long dis­par­aged NAFTA as a dis­as­ter.

Bexar County Judge Nel­son Wolff, who was mayor at the time of the 1992 sign­ing, said the cer­e­mony helped put San An­to­nio on the map. He re­called eat­ing din­ner and talking base­ball with the pres­i­dent, who cap­tained Yale Uni­ver­sity’s team as a stu­dent.

“He was a real classy guy,” Wolff said. “He had a de­meanor that’s miss­ing in pol­i­tics to­day. He set a stan­dard for eth­i­cal con­duct and how to con­duct your­self as pres­i­dent of the United States.”

Straus said the Bushes had friends in ev­ery pocket of the coun­try, and San An­to­nio was no ex­cep­tion.

David Bates, a San An­to­nio res­i­dent for 25 years, was a per­sonal aide to Bush when he was run­ning for pres­i­dent in 1980 and later served as deputy chief of staff and sec­re­tary to the Cab­i­net dur­ing his pres­i­dency.

Bates grew up along­side Jeb Bush in Hous­ton. When Bates was grad­u­at­ing law school in 1978, the el­der Bush had a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee and was stump­ing for can­di­dates across the coun­try while con­sid­er­ing a pres­i­den­tial run.

The com­mit­tee had two em­ploy­ees, Bates said, in­clud­ing its di­rec­tor, Carl Rove, who wanted to spend more time in the of­fice. That meant Bush needed a trav­el­ing com­pan­ion, and Bates hap­pily filled that role.

“We trav­eled all over the coun­try, and about mid-Oc­to­ber 1978 … I knew he was go­ing to do it,” Bates said about Bush’s bid for pres­i­dent in 1980, which he would lose to Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan. “I asked if I could keep work­ing for him as a per­sonal aide.”

Bush was the finest man he ever knew, Bates said. As an elected of­fi­cial, he al­ways put what was best for the coun­try above him­self.

“Ev­ery de­ci­sion he made, it was what’s best for the coun­try. We’ll sort out the pol­i­tics, but … that was his north star.”

The per­fect ex­am­ple, Bates said, was when the Ber­lin Wall came down in 1989. Po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers and Capi­tol Hill denizens urged him to go to Ger­many to cel­e­brate, but Bush re­sisted, ac­cord­ing to Bates.

“He said, that’s the last thing I should do right now. Gor­bachev does not need this rubbed in his face,” Bates said. “He’s got a very restive Soviet mil­i­tary that’s prob­a­bly very un­happy about this hap­pen­ing.”

Per­haps nowhere was Bush’s con­nec­tion to San An­to­nio more ev­i­dent than in his decades­long re­la­tion­ship with the Strauses, one of the city’s own po­lit­i­cal pow­er­house fam­i­lies.

In ad­di­tion to serv­ing in the Com­merce Depart­ment, Joe Straus also was an ad­vance man for thenVice Pres­i­dent Bush. He said Bush gov­erned with strength and prag­ma­tism and made dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions when they weren’t po­lit­i­cally con­ve­nient.

“He was a prag­matic politi­cian,” he said. “Peo­ple for­get that when he was elected pres­i­dent, he had a Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the House and the Se­nate, and he still got an aw­ful lot done. That’s a tal­ent that’s sorely lack­ing in pol­i­tics to­day.”

Just as im­por­tantly, Straus said he was “un­fail­ingly kind.”

“He prob­a­bly doesn’t get enough credit for his sense of hu­mor and for just be­ing a re­ally good friend to so many peo­ple,” Straus said. “That’s what made him an ef­fec­tive politi­cian. He never for­got a face or a name.”

As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Car­los Sali­nas de Gor­tari, left, greets Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney in San An­to­nio in 1992.

Staff file photo

Vice Pres­i­dent Bush, who was seek­ing the Oval Of­fice at that time, ar­rives via barge for a rally at the Ar­ne­son River Theater.

San An­to­nio Light file photo

Bush holds Julie Tay­lor af­ter pick­ing her out of the crowd dur­ing a visit to San An­to­nio to en­dorse the can­di­dacy of La­mar Smith for the Se­nate in 1986.

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