How often does a person get a chance to read a biography about a famous someone he’s personally known a bit, written by that person’s equally prominent son, whom he’s also met a few times?
I was interested in reading the work of George W. Bush, America’s 43rd president, and what he said in a most personal biography of his father, George H.W. Bush, the 41st president.
Never before has a president told the story of his father, another president, through his own eyes and in his own words. (We forgive John Quincy Adams this oversight.)
If one is interested in little-known facts about U.S. presidents, as I am, you get an inside view of how 41, enjoying 89 percent popularity after the successful ending of the first Gulf War in Kuwait, garnered just 37 percent of the vote less than two years later, finishing second to Bill Clinton in a three-way race in 1992 that included fellow Texan Ross Perot, who had years earlier tried to recruit the then-businessman Bush to work for him.
The personal rift between 41 and Perot is explained, as are other heretofore little- known facts about his relationship with Ronald Reagan, what Richard Nixon labeled him in Oval Office tapes addressing Watergate, and who in the White House was not a favorite of his popular and witty wife, Barbara.
A blind date, set up by dad
You learn firsthand about eldest son George W. being set up by dad in Washington, D.C., for a date with Tricia Nixon — and what embarrassingly happened to abruptly end it.
The reader comes to understand why George H.W. Bush’s indomitable mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, was the most influential person is his life and that his favorite sports hero was not Babe Ruth — whom he met while playing first base for Yale — but another famous Yankee.
You follow the nomadic life of the senior Bushes, which included six children and 25 different homes in their first 32 years together. (Now long-time Houston residents, George and Barbara — whom he calls “Bobsie” — will have been married 70 years in January.)
Nine-decade trajectory of 41’s life
It was Dorie McCullough Lawson, the daughter of David McCullough, historian and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Adams, who suggested to George W. that he write about his father.
The just-released new book, entitled “41: A Portrait of My Father,” covers the nine-decade trajectory of the elder Bush’s life and career.
Stories recount 41’s blueblooded upbringing on the East Coast, life-risking service as a 20-year-old Navy pilot shot down in the Pacific during World War II — he got his flight training in Minnesota and dined with the Pillsburys — his pioneering and most successful career in the oil business, his political rise as a Texas Republican volunteer leader, Houston congressman, two-time-defeated U.S. Senate candidate, U.S. envoy to China, U.N. ambassador, chairman of the Republican National Committee, CIA director, vice president, and president.
But mostly, the book is about family and how George H.W. Bush became the optimistic, determined man he is while being, as 43 and his other children have said often in public, “the best dad in the world.”
Meeting the Bushes at MSP
As a one-time member of the Republican National Committee and a former state party chair, I recall meeting 41 and his wife, Barbara, during the 1980 campaign in which he was the running mate of Ronald Reagan.
A late arrival at a hastily planned airport welcoming group for the Bushes, I was last in line, holding my 3-year-old son. As luck would have it, the Bushes’ ground transportation was late in arriving, so we were left in conversation together for about 15 minutes. Barbara asked to hold my reluctant Judson, eventually totally winning the lad over.
Several days after the trip, I got a very cordial hand written note — a lifelong practice of his — from the soon-to-be veep-elect. Reagan-Bush lost Vice President Mondale’s home state by 81,000 votes of 2.1 million cast, but won the Electoral College with 489 votes, carrying 44 states.
New light on publicity-shy ’41’
Importantly, author ’43 explains the loving, supportive but nonintrusive relationship he and his father shared, especially during his own eight years as president.
The book, well researched and often containing distinct 43-like language and recollections, casts new light on the publicity-shy George H.W. Bush. Seemingly capable of making endless numbers of friends during his long life as an accomplished statesman, he is described as a modest, warm, decent man. He is now goodnaturedly wheelchair-bound, staying on top of things and proudly wearing his outlandishly colorful socks.
Chuck Slocum (Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com) is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.)