41st pres­i­dent con­sid­ered ‘Green­wich as home and friends’

The News-Times (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Tom Mel­lana

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.

Coun­try Day

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.

No mat­ter.

“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.”

Fam­ily

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.

“I think that his fa­ther set a won­der­ful ex­am­ple for him,” Deb­bie Walker Sta­ple­ton, a first cousin of Ge­orge H.W. Bush and long­time Green­wich res­i­dent, told Green­wich Time in 2014. “That def­i­nitely in­flu­enced him to lead a life of pub­lic ser­vice, to make a dif­fer­ence. He felt strongly that this was a call­ing that he would ex­cel in.”

But by many ac­counts, the true leader of the house­hold was Dorothy Walker Bush, the daugh­ter of a prominent banker who was pres­i­dent of the United States Golf As­so­ci­a­tion — the Walker Cup is named for him.

She was ac­tive in the Red Cross in Green­wich and she was co­founder of the Green­wich Shel­ter for Chil­dren on Arch Street, which be­came Fam­ily Cen­ters.

“Mother’s crit­i­cism of her chil­dren, like Dad’s was al­ways con­struc­tive, never neg­a­tive,” Ge­orge H.W. Bush once wrote. “They were our big­gest boost­ers, al­ways there when we needed them. They be­lieved in an old-fash­ioned way of bring­ing up a fam­ily — gen­er­ous mea­sures of both love and dis­ci­pline.”

But in an ar­ti­cle he wrote for Green­wich Time in 1985, Bush painted a bit of a dif­fer­ent pic­ture of his mother.

“Ev­ery mother has her own style,” he wrote. “My mother’s was a lit­tle like an Army drill sergeant’s. Dad was the com­mand­ing gen­eral, make no mis­take about that, but Mother was the one out there day in and day out shap­ing the troops.”

Asharp re­mark would re­mind the chil­dren when they were brag­ging. When Ge­orge was 8 years old, he ex­plained to his mother that he had lost a ten­nis match be­cause he was “off his game.”

“You don’t have a game,” she shot back.

But Bush also de­scribed his child­hood as filled with laugh­ter, led by a mother who of­ten was over­come by what her chil­dren termed “The Gig­gles.”

Older brother Prescott Bush Jr. once re­called the story of how he and Ge­orge fell asleep in Christ Church on one hot Sun­day, un­til the Rev. Al­fred Wil­son chose for his ser­mon the bi­b­li­cal text “Com­fort me with ap­ples.”

“Well, Ge­orge and I woke up, and we looked at each other and ex­ploded with laugh­ter,” Prescott told Green­wich Time in 1991.

Ge­orge wrote about what hap­pened af­ter that.

“Mother looked at us se­verely, and that qui­eted us, un­til sud­denly the whole pew be­gan to wig­gle and shake, and there was Mother, at­tacked by ‘The Gig­gles.’ Of course, look­ing at her broke us all up, and the whole Bush fam­ily beat a fast and ignominious re­treat, van­ish­ing out­side into gales of laugh­ter.”

Navy, Bar­bara and Yale

Af­ter Coun­try Day, Bush at­tended Phillips Academy An­dover and, at 18, joined the U.S. Navy, earn­ing the Distin­guished Fly­ing Cross as a Navy pi­lot in World War II.

He also, at the age of 18 or 19, at­tended a Christ­mas dance at the Round Hill Club in Green­wich. There, he met a 16-year-old dis­tant cousin of Pres­i­dent Franklin Pierce who came from neigh­bor­ing Rye, N.Y. Her name was Bar­bara Pierce. They tried to waltz to­gether, but, as the story goes, he was not much of a dancer.

Again, no mat­ter. The mar­riage of Ge­orge and Bar­bara Bush lasted 73 years, and bore six chil­dren.

Af­ter the war, Bush re­turned to Con­necti­cut, and en­rolled in Yale Univer­sity. There, he was a mem­ber of Phi Beta Kappa and cap­tained and played first base for a base­ball team that lost twice to Cal­i­for­nia in the cham­pi­onship game of the Col­lege World Se­ries, in 1947 and 1948. When Babe Ruth pre­sented his pa­pers to the school in 1948, they were re­ceived by the fu­ture pres­i­dent, in his base­ball uni­form on Yale’s di­a­mond.

Also at Yale, Bush was one of 15 ju­niors tapped for Skull and Bones, the univer­sity’s old­est and most se­cret se­nior so­ci­ety, in 1947. His fa­ther was a mem­ber be­fore him, as would be his son, fu­ture Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, af­ter him.

“Ge­orge Bush is ex­actly loyal to other friends as those who hap­pened to be in the so­ci­ety with him,” for­mer U.S. Rep. Thomas Ash­ley, D-Ohio, told the As­so­ci­ated Press in 1988. “His friend­ship across the so­cial range is known to ev­ery­one.”

Mem­bers of Bush’s Bones class re­united in Wash­ing­ton while Bush was vice pres­i­dent, din­ing at the vice pres­i­dent’s man­sion and tour­ing the Oval Of­fice.

It was af­ter Yale that Bush left Con­necti­cut for Texas, and the oil in­dus­try. But he never cut his ties to Green­wich. Fam­ily, in­clud­ing his mother and older brother, still lived here, and he re­turned on oc­ca­sion, even af­ter at­tain­ing the high­est of of­fices.

One visit was as vice pres­i­dent in Septem­ber 1986, when he flew in for a rally at Green­wich High School. Stu­dents from Green­wich High, Brunswick, Green­wich Academy, Con­vent of the Sa­cred Heart and the Day­croft School met him as he ar­rived at Westchester County Air­port and rode in his limou­sine back to the school.

When Bush ran for pres­i­dent in 1988, five Green­wich res­i­dents trav­eled to New Or­leans to serve as del­e­gates and al­ter­nates at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion.

“There’s a spe­cial, warm bond of friend­ship he will have with the Con­necti­cut del­e­ga­tion and many per­sonal bonds,” said Wil­liam Nick­er­son, then state rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the 140th Dis­trict.

More than 180 mem­bers of the Bush ex­tended fam­ily trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton for the 41st pres­i­dent’s inau­gu­ra­tion. So did many friends from Green­wich. Some stayed there. Among the Green­wich res­i­dents who served in Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion were Joseph Verner Reed, White House chief of pro­to­col; David Ge­orge Ball, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of la­bor; and for­mer Green­wich Po­lice Chief Wil­liam Anderson, U.S. mar­shal.

Bush did not get back of­ten to town as pres­i­dent, but of­ten enough that res­i­dents of Pheas­ant Lane, where Dorothy Bush lived later in life, came to know the sound of the 25-ve­hi­cle pres­i­den­tial mo­tor­cade rum­bling down their nar­row road. Shortly be­fore he left of­fice, Bush re­turned to Pheas­ant Road, and Christ Church, for his mother’s fu­neral in 1992.

Eight years ago, the ex-pres­i­dent, then 86, re­turned to Christ Church once again, mak­ing a low-key en­trance through the side door of the sanc­tu­ary with an en­tourage of Se­cret Ser­vice agents in tow, and sit­ting in the third row of pews dur­ing a memo­rial ser­vice to the older brother he knew as Pressy.

Prescott Bush Jr. died June 23, 2010. Un­like his fa­ther and younger brother, Prescott Jr. lived most of his po­lit­i­cal life be­hind the scenes, help­ing oth­ers get elected. His bold­est foray into the fore­front came in a 1982 chal­lenge to Low­ell P. We­icker Jr.’s Se­nate seat, which he with­drew prior to that year’s pri­mary in a show of party unity.

“They are just a premier Amer­i­can fam­ily,” Reed, a life­long friend of the for­mer pres­i­dent’s who died in 2016, told Green­wich Time af­ter Prescott Jr.’s death.

That Bush, draw­ing on the early lessons from the play­ing fields and courts of Green­wich, did not wear the airs of a po­lit­i­cal scion turned out to be one of his great pub­lic strengths, though ev­ery­one didn’t al­ways see it as such.

“We told him the fact that your mother told you not to brag is a big li­a­bil­ity and you’re never go­ing to be elected,” Rus­sell Reynolds Jr., a long­time Green­wich res­i­dent and an in­au­gu­ral ball chair­man for Bush in 1989, told Green­wich Time in 2014. “We told him you have to be more force­ful and talk about your­self.”

It wasn’t to be. The Yan­kee sto­icism that for­bade brag­ging also dis­al­lowed any sign of self pity, which Bush would not show, not when he lost his re-elec­tion cam­paign to Bill Clin­ton in 1992, not when Parkin­son’s dis­ease took the use of his legs late in life.

“He is a liv­ing ex­am­ple of grace and courage, re­gard­less of the phys­i­cal chal­lenges that he deals with daily,” Deb­bie Walker Sta­ple­ton, a first cousin of Bush and long­time Green­wich res­i­dent, said on his 90th birth­day, which he marked by jump­ing out of an air­plane, de­spite us­ing a wheel­chair.

That rep­u­ta­tion, earned over decades of pub­lic ser­vice, suf­fered last year when sev­eral women ac­cused him of grop­ing their but­tocks while pos­ing for pho­to­graphs.

Bush’s staff at the time is­sued apolo­gies and said the for­mer pres­i­dent meant the ac­tions as a joke, a mo­ti­va­tion that sex­ual as­sault ex­perts said mat­ters lit­tle to those on the re­ceiv­ing end. Those who knew Bush best, and much of the coun­try, could not rec­on­cile the ac­cu­sa­tions with the man they knew.

“Un­be­liev­able,” Green­wich res­i­dent E. Pendle­ton James, who served as Ron­ald Rea­gan’s as­sis­tant for pres­i­den­tial per­son­nel, said af­ter the first ac­cu­sa­tion be­came pub­lic, adding that Bush treated women “with great re­spect and hu­mor.”

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