It is with heavy heart I write this column upon the passing of President George H.W. Bush, whom history shall record as one of the most uncelebrated, but effective, statesmen in the annals of American politics.
This, I believe, is an accolade that would please him just fine, as it was his gentlemanly nature not to draw or seek great aggrandizement or attention upon himself, but instead, above all else, to maintain an air of humility about him. In so doing, despite great wealth and power, he allowed anyone who should have the privilege to meet him (and Barbara) to feel comfortable and at ease, as if he had known you for years.
His opponents may have attempted to portray him as an elitist, but nothing could be further from the truth. His real personality was of modesty and, yes, even humorous at times … and I should know. As a newly graduated high school student, I had the honor of participating in the vice president’s and, later, president’s, campaigns for office.
One of my responsibilities was to escort the president and his staff from the motorcade to the green room in preparation for the day’s events.
On an early visit to Cedar Rapids, we were walking through the halls of the then Stouffer Hotel for a reception. The president saw a sign along the way that read: “Cedar Rapids: City of Five Seasons.” As we entered the elevator to be taken up to our room, Bush turned and asked his staff, “What’s the fifth season?”
Everyone accompanying us were national entourage, so no one knew the answer. Finally, I, most certainly the junior among them, spoke up and explained it was a marketing campaign boasting so much to do in Cedar Rapids, that it’s like having a fifth season. The president laughed and I added, “The fifth one isn’t the political season.” Bush responded, “Yeah, that’s not a season, it never ends.”
Bush made many trips to Cedar Rapids and always had good things to say about it, one of which was the kindness with which he was always received in “that city with an extra season.” I don’t know whether he remembered it in his later years (I wouldn’t doubt it because he was very bright, a quick study, and absorbed about everything told to him), but I never will forget how he learned it.
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The world has lost a true gentleman and, this past April, a lady who always would be first in the eyes of her husband, whether in the White House or not. May they rest in peace knowing that each is the inspiration for the personal values to which we, including leaders of today, can aspire.
• David V. Wendell is a Marion historian, author and special events coordinator specializing in American history.