No. 41, the real ‘man in full’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

“He­len,” I said. “Let the pres­i­dent get to it his way. You’ll get your ques­tions.”

The pres­i­dent started again, she in­ter­rupted again, and David Brink­ley spoke up from the end of the ta­ble. “He­len, this isn’t a press con­fer­ence, let the pres­i­dent speak.”

“But he promised to talk about the Mid­dle East,” she said. “And I will, He­len, but in my time.” He started a third time, with the same re­sult, and the pres­i­dent spoke up again, this time with a lit­tle heat. “He­len,” he said, “I’ve waited a long time to say this. Shut up!”

He made a flir­ta­tious re­mark to Suzanne Fields, seated at his side, earn­ing a brief but icy look from Mrs. Bush, and the din­ner pro­ceeded to a cor­dial con­clu­sion. (The Mid­dle East turned out to be dark and stormy, as it al­ways is.)

Mr. Bush had an earthy side that was al­ways po­lite but oc­ca­sion­ally un­ex­pected. Many pres­i­dents do, by all ac­counts, which is of­ten part of their charm. But it’s some­times cringe-mak­ing. No. 41 knew the dif­fer­ence and knew not to cross the line of his own draw­ing.

He could be the starchy Epis­co­palian, but I once sat next to him at a small Con­gre­ga­tional ser­vice near his home in Ken­neb­unkport, and when he sang with Bap­tist fer­vor all four verses of John New­ton’s great hymn, “Amaz­ing Grace, how sweet the sound,” he knew all the words with­out look­ing once at the book.

His faith, which Angli­cans usu­ally do not talk about with the ease of evan­gel­i­cals, was cru­cial to com­fort in his fi­nal years. He be­lieved in a life af­ter this one, and looked for­ward with con­sid­er­able rel­ish to see­ing his wife and daugh­ter Robin, who died age 3. He asked prac­ti­cal ques­tions about what he could ex­pect. “There are a lot of peo­ple I want to see,” he said, “but how do you find them? It’s not like there will be a big tele­phone book.” If there is, I’m con­fi­dent his cu­rios­ity will lead him to it. Wes­ley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

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