Book: 41: A Portrait of My Father
Author: George W. Bush
Sponsors: John Dionne, Josh Harris (Buy the Book)
Table of Contents
41: A Portrait of My Father recounts the life of the 41st President, George H.W. Bush, through the perspective of his oldest son, George W. Bush. George W. Bush walks the reader through the defining stages of his father’s life beginning with his family lineage and childhood.
He describes his father’s upbringing and his decision to enlist in World War II as a Navy Pilot before beginning college at Yale University. He recounts his father’s experience, specifically the day his plane was shot down and he was stranded on a life raft for multiple hours before being rescued by Navy submariners.
Bush also writes about his father’s willingness to take risks, demonstrating this through his untraditional post-college job within the oil industry and his eventual entrance into politics.
Throughout his journey, George H.W. Bush was resilient when faced with failure, always willing to take advantage of new and uncommon opportunities without the fear of defeat stopping him.
Many of George H.W.’s experiences were foundational for his role as president. Early in his career as a business leader in the oil industry, H.W. learned essential managerial skills and the importance of hiring exceptional employees; as a pilot in the Navy, he learned the necessity of a leader articulating the mission and building trust with his troops.
Similarly, his time as a United Nations Ambassador and as the head of the liaison office in Beijing prepared him for a presidency filled with foreign affair dilemmas. While H.W. stepped into the role of president with evidenced natural intellect and skills, his wisdom and discernment were developed from years of different experiences.
George W. Bush’s anecdotes about his father frequently reverted back to a few consistent themes about his character, including:
- Approaching all tasks with humility and an exceptional work ethic
- Remaining gracious amidst failures and setbacks
- Prioritizing building and maintaining personal relationships
- Valuing family and faith above all else
George H.W. Bush’s depiction of his father’s life demonstrates that character-revealing moments are not just in the hardest of life experiences but also in small everyday actions.
41: A Portrait of My Father gives readers a glimpse into the heart of one of America’s exceptional leaders and the defining moments that shaped his perspective, passions, and values.
41: A Portrait of My Father recounts the life of the 41st U.S. president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, from the perspective of his oldest son and 43rd president, George W. Bush.
Throughout the book, George W. Bush (henceforth referred to as “W.”) recalls facts of his father’s life as a Navy pilot, Texan entrepreneur, U.S. diplomat, and president; but most importantly, W. reflects on the consistent themes of his father’s character. 41: A Portrait of My Father provides insight into our nation’s history by telling the multi-generational story of a family that has uniquely served the United States.
Family Background and Upbringing
W. begins by introducing H.W.’s parents. He describes H.W.’s mother, Dorothy Walker, as someone who had an insatiable competitive drive, whether in tennis matches or swimming contests but grounded her determination to win with earnest humility — a trait she purposefully instilled in her children.
He notes that she also instilled in her son the importance of faith through reading bible verses to her children over breakfast every morning. Of all the influences on H.W.’s life, W. claims that Dorothy Walker cultivated his father’s character more than anyone else.
H.W.’s father, Prescott Bush, was an avid sports fan, playing first base for Yale’s baseball team while also occasionally joining the university’s golf team during their toughest matches.
Before his senior year at Yale, Prescott Bush volunteered for active duty with the Connecticut National Guard and eventually fought in World War I, serving as a field artillery officer and later as a part of occupation force after Germany’s surrender.
His senior year at Yale, Prescott Bush volunteered for active duty with the Connecticut National Guard and eventually fought in World War I, serving as a field artillery officer and later as a part of occupation force after Germany’s surrender.
H.W. learned many key lessons from his father, such as the value of making and keeping friends; the measure of a meaningful life is based on one’s character; and the obligation to serve the community and nation when financial success comes.
H.W. greatly looked up to his father, so much so that key elements of their stories are similar. Both men volunteered for the war, excelled in business, and served their fellow citizens as politicians.
H.W. attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where has was chosen as the captain of the baseball and soccer teams and manager of the basketball team. He excelled both academically and personally, eventually gaining acceptance to Yale for college.
However, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 1941, H.W. decided to enlist in the Navy first, despite many adults, including his father, insisting he begins college instead.
During Christmas break of his senior year, H.W. attended a dance where he met Barbara Pierce. Rather than dancing, they talked about life including his decision to join the Navy. He explained to her that he felt a duty to give back to his country, and he enlisted on June 12, 1942. Despite his initial stance, Prescott Bush respected the decision and provided complete support going forward.
H.W. reported for duty as a pilot aboard the USS San Jacinto in January 1944 after a year and a half of training. On the ship, H.W. learned to relate to people from different walks of life, particularly
through his ability to make others laugh. However, his time at war was also filled with hardships and grief. On a patrol flight, H.W.’s roommate and closest friend on the carrier, Jim Wykes, dropped off the radar screen and was never found.
In response to his friend’s death, H.W. wrote a letter to Wykes’s mother expressing his condolences. He would continue writing letters to families of fallen soldiers throughout the war and later throughout his presidency.
While in flight on September 2, 1944, in Chichi Jima, Japan, H.W.’s plane was hit by Japanese anti-aircraft guns. H.W. was determined to complete the mission of taking out the radio tower on the island and continued to drop his bombs and hit the target. This, however, made a safe water landing impossible, forcing him and his two crewmen to parachute out of the plane.
As he landed in the water, another plane dropped an inflatable yellow life raft. H.W. climbed in and paddled against the current and away from the island, praying for rescue. After about three hours, submariners of the USS Finback found him. Despite his rescue, his two crewmen were not found.
H.W. wrote letters to both of their families and stayed in touch with them for decades, including inviting both crewmen’s sisters for a private visit of the White House when he became president. When asked about his two crewmates during an interview on his ninetieth birthday, H.W. simply said,
“I think about them all the time.”
On September 18, 1945, H.W. was honorably discharged from the Navy after three years and three months of service. He enrolled at Yale in November 1945 and became a father to W. in 1946. He graduated in two and a half years with Phi Beta Kappa academic distinction and was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He was also captain of Yale’s baseball team, playing first base.
During his first Thanksgiving at Yale, H.W. learned that some of his classmates could not travel home to be with family so he invited them over for dinner, despite lacking a dining room table. This habit of opening his home to family and friends would continue to be a consistent theme throughout his life.
After graduation in 1948, H.W. and Barbara moved from New Haven, Connecticut to West Texas. Despite job offers on Wall Street, H.W. desired to take a risk and prove that he could succeed without help from his family. He ultimately accepted a job with Ideco, the International Derrick and Equipment Company, as an equipment clerk in Odessa, Texas.
W. emphasizes that the decision to move was not an easy one to make but was possible because of the support Barbara provided. H.W. and she always exercised the principle that they each would be willing to go “three-quarters of the way,” meaning they both would be more committed to their marriage than they would be to themselves and were willing to alter their own needs to satisfy the others. The transition to West Texas proved difficult, but the key to their successful transition was their attitude.
H.W.’s work ethic led to a promotion as a traveling salesman for the company in California. As a traveling salesman, H.W. and his family lived in four different cities throughout 1949. Sales were not H.W.’s greatest strength; however, he utilized his ability to develop personal relationships to not only sell drill bits to customers but also earn their trust. Also while in California, Barbara gave birth to their second child, Robin. In the spring of 1950, H.W. was transferred back to West Texas, settling in Midland.
When Robin, H.W. and Barbara’s second child, was three years old, Barbara noticed that her child frequently had very little energy. After going to the doctor and running tests, they discovered that Robin was suffering from leukemia and was told that no cure was available in her current state.
After the diagnosis, they reached out to H.W.’s uncle, a doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and learned of some recent advancements in treatment that could be helpful. Despite knowing the odds were long, they took Robin to New York for treatment.
As parents, Barbara and H.W. reacted to her diagnosis differently. While H.W. would meet with doctors, stop at church to pray for Robin, and throw himself into his work, Barbara would stay by Robin’s bedside, playing with her, reading to her, and trying to keep her spirits high.
On October 11, 1953, Robin died peacefully after battling the disease for seven months. In one of her final moments with her father, she said: “I love you more than tongue can tell.” W. notes that H.W. would repeat those words for the rest of his life. Six years later, they gave birth to their second daughter, Dorothy.
After a few years in Midland, H.W. decided he wanted to become an independent oilman, requiring him to leave his current position at Dresser Industries. H.W. was nervous to tell Neil Mallon, the man who gave him his first opportunity in the oil business, of his planned departure. However, to his surprise, Mallon was extremely supportive and even spent time detailing the best way for H.W. to set up his business.
Bill and Hugh Liedtke asked H.W. to join their venture to build a large independent oil company as a partner, eventually leading to the creation of Zapata Petroleum in 1953. Their first major investment was within the Jameson field of Coke County, where they were able to produce oil from all 127 drilled holes.
The company then expanded in 1954 with the creation of Zapata Offshore, a venture to build rigs and lease them out to oil operators for offshore drilling opportunities, led by H.W. Over time, H.W. and the Liedtkes decided to split Zapata into two separate companies. The Liedtkes’ portion eventually achieved tremendous success, merging with South Penn Oil and creating one of the world’s largest energy companies, Pennzoil.
Shortly after the division, H.W. moved his family to Houston since many offshore drilling companies were located there. Through this new role, H.W. learned how to work with foreign businessmen and government officials.
Similarly, as the leader of Zapata Offshore, H.W. learned critical management principles, such as the importance of hiring knowledgeable people and listening to their advice, of delegating responsibility and holding people accountable, and of making tough decisions and accepting the consequences.
Early Political Career
George H.W. Bush did not appear to be a political person throughout his early adulthood, but this all changed when his father, Prescott Bush, decided to run for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut in 1950.
Prescott Bush lost both the 1950 and 1952 Senate races but was eventually elected two months after the 1952 election since the previously elected Connecticut Senator died unexpectedly. Through this experience, H.W. learned the importance of resilience and optimism when faced with defeat.
H.W.’s first significant jump into politics came through his involvement with the Republican Party of Harris County, and he eventually became the chairman of the organization. On September 11, 1963, H.W. announced his candidacy for the United States Senate.
Most, including W., recognized the slim chance of victory since H.W. had limited political experience and the Republican Party was unpopular in Texas at the time. Nevertheless, his family fully supported the decision.
Throughout the primaries, H.W. traveled all throughout the state and followed up after each campaign event with handwritten notes to the people he met. H.W.’s hard work paid off, and he won the Republican Party candidacy.
H.W. ran against Senator Ralph Yarborough, a liberal populist who gained the support of the sitting President and former Texas Senator, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Johnson’s support strongly impacted the election’s final results as Yarborough ultimately won reelection.
Despite his previous loss, H.W. decided to run for office again, this time for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966. He ultimately won the race against Frank Briscoe, rallying about 57 percent of the votes.
H.W. earned a reputation as a hardworking Congressman and spent Saturday mornings signing letters and writing personal notes, just like his father did as a senator. Sundays were spent at church and legendary hamburger lunches in their backyard, which were was open to family members, staffers, fellow Members of Congress, neighborhood friends, visiting constituents, Washington insiders, and friends from earlier phases of life.
One of H.W.’s greatest strengths was his ability to make new friends while keeping old ones, as evidenced by the guest list to his Sunday hamburger lunches. W. notes that one of his favorite memories during his father’s time in Congress was when they went to the House gym. W. remembers that H.W. knew the name of every worker and towel attendant in the facility.
As a congressman, H.W. embarked on a sixteen-day trip through Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand and met with senior American officials, junior officers, and enlisted men, asking for their unvarnished opinions on the Vietnam War. This trip provided him with perspective about the current state of the war while influencing his outlook on the civil rights movement.
During his trip, he saw black and white men risking their lives side by side, causing him to view legislation such as the Fair Housing Act of 1968 with new eyes. The bill outlawed racial discrimination in selling, renting, or advertising residential property. Even though H.W.’s congressional district was 90 percent white and heavily opposed to the open-housing bill, H.W. voted in favor of the act. He received harsh criticism from his constituents about his decision, and in response, H.W. held a town hall meeting to articulate the reasoning behind his vote.
He talked of his conversations with African-Americans in Vietnam and how some expressed their desire to come home, get married and buy a home. By the end of the town hall, the crowd that greeted him with catcalls and boos applauded him with a standing ovation.
In January 1970, H.W. decided to take another risk and leave his safe seat in the House to run for the Senate against Lloyd Bentsen. Bentsen ultimately defeated H.W. 53 percent to 47 percent. Despite losing the race, H.W. was gracious in defeat and thankful for those who helped throughout the campaign.
At that moment, he believed his political career was over; instead, a new opportunity arose as the sitting president, Richard Nixon, nominated him to serve as United States Ambassador to the United Nations.
As a UN Ambassador, H.W. prioritized building trust with his fellow ambassadors, not only through the required dinners and cocktail parties, but also through inviting ambassadors and their families to events such as Broadway shows, baseball games, concerts, or even a weekend at Walker’s Point (the family’s second home in Maine). H.W. realized that the key to effective diplomacy was built on personal relationships — an approach he coined “personal diplomacy.”
Shortly after Nixon’s reelection, news of the Watergate scandal emerged. Despite his disappointment in the president, H.W. never condemned Nixon publicly. Instead, as head of the RNC, he wrote a letter to President Nixon advising him to consider resignation, ultimately ending the letter with sympathy, stating,
“This letter is made much more difficult because of the gratitude I will always have for you (p.107).”
W. reflects that the Watergate Scandal demonstrated the importance of personal relationships and surrounding oneself with people of utmost character.
Once President Gerald Ford took office, H.W. met with him to discuss his future and was named the head of the United States Liaison Office in Beijing. Barbara and H.W. arrived in China in October 1974. H.W. focused on developing personal relationships with his fellow diplomats and his personal staff, and never saw a country too small or a job title too junior to merit his attention.
H.W. devoted a lot of attention to meeting Chinese officials, especially during President Ford’s trip to China in 1975. H.W. accompanied Gerald Ford with meeting Mao Zedong, which led him to meet then Vice Premier, Den Xiaoping. Xiaoping and H.W. would reunite thirteen years later, both as the leaders of their respective nations.
On November 2, 1975, President Ford sent H.W. a message asking him to leave China and return to the United States to serve as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). At the time, the CIA had a tarnished reputation from Congress and the press.
He took intentional actions such as holding his personal office at the agency’s headquarters rather than in Washington D.C., utilizing the employee rather than the director only elevator, and personally thanking analysts and case officers to boost morale and improve the culture within the organization. H.W. was relieved of his duties at the CIA at the end of the Ford administration.
After finishing his tenure at the CIA and moving back to Houston, H.W. announced his campaign for the presidency on May 1, 1979. Despite tirelessly working on the campaign trail, he eventually withdrew from the campaign and endorsed Ronald Reagan. However, this did not end H.W.’s involvement within the presidential campaign. At the Republican National Convention, Governor
Reagan announced H.W. as his running mate. Reagan won the election and H.W. became the forty-third Vice President of the United States.
On March 30, 1981, President Reagan was shot as he was walking out the side door of the Washington Hilton. H.W. heard the news while on a flight to Washington from Fort Worth and took a moment to jot his reaction. He first wrote three words describing the president as his friend —
“decent, warm, kind (p.143).”
He then wrote out his responsibilities, reminding himself to avoid panic and project stability in this period of uncertainty.
The next day, as H.W. presided over a Cabinet meeting, journalists noted that H.W. remained in his usual spot rather than sitting in the president’s chair. This revealed H.W.’s continual humility and trustworthiness as a vice president and leader.
Next day, as H.W. presided over a Cabinet meeting, journalists noted that H.W. remained in his usual spot rather than sitting in the president’s chair. This revealed H.W.’s continual humility and trustworthiness as a vice president and leader.
W. highlights that even though H.W. was extremely busy, he always made time for family, including daily hospital visits when W.’s brother, Marvin, was suffering from colitis. Over the course of eight years, the Bush family continued to expand with eight new grandchildren. In a letter celebrating the birth of his grandson, H.W. wrote, “Nothing else matters. The birth of JB Jr. put everything that is important into perspective (p.152).”
As Reagan sought reelection, H.W. was tasked with debating against the Democratic Party’s vice- president candidate, Geraldine Ferraro who was the first woman to ever appear on a presidential ticket. He thoughtfully prepared for the debate to ensure that he was respectful and not condescending. Following the election, H.W. developed a genuine friendship with Ferraro, despite their political differences.
President Reagan won reelection. Shortly after, H.W. began assembling his campaign team for the 1988 presidential race. W. joined the campaign team, stating that —
“…there was no better cause: George Bush would make a great president (p. 157).”
While his confidence in his father’s ability was unwavering, W. also noted that H.W. was up against the “Van Buren factor,” the idea that no vice president had been elected president to follow the man who selected him since 1836 when Martin Van Buren defeated William Henry Harrison.
In November 1986, news emerged that the Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran in return for cooperating in releasing American hostages, with half of the money the Iranians paid for the weapons diverted to support the Contras, an anti-communist rebel movement in Nicaragua.
This scandal, known as the “Iran-Contra,” was startling because the administration previously stated they would never pay ransom for hostages and signed a bill prohibiting government aid to the Contras. Reagan and Bush were both aware of the arms deal but had no knowledge of the payment to the Contras.
Even when considering the potential repercussions affecting his presidential campaign, H.W. chose to remain loyal to Reagan rather than distance himself from the event — upholding his duty as vice president to always support the president.
On October 12, 1987, H.W. formally entered the race for president, promising to continue policies of the Reagan administration and introducing new ideas of his own. One of which was his promise of never raising taxes. Within the primary race, H.W. initially struggled to win majority votes but used this as motivation to outwork his opponents as he continued campaigning, eventually winning the Republican party’s nomination.
At the Republican National Convention, H.W. utilized his acceptance speech to establish a vision for his campaign while also transitioning from vice president to candidate. W. emphasizes that even within this speech, his father embraced a stance of humility.
On November 8, 1988, George H.W. Bush was elected the forty-first president of the United States. The day after the election, H.W. and his family attended church in Houston. The congregation prayed over his presidency and the opportunity to be beacons of light in the role.
As the prayer closed, W. noted that his father humbly continued to pray, emphasizing the essential role faith played within H.W.’s life, especially as he prepared for this new position.
Presidency: Foreign Relations
Multiple foreign relations issues shaped H.W.’s presidency. H.W.’s first major diplomatic decision was to attend the funeral of Japanese Emperor Hirohito, followed by a trip to China. A few months later, the Tiananmen Square protests occurred in which the Chinese government deployed military tanks to crush democratic activists demonstrations. H.W. had to strike a careful balance in response to Tiananmen, doing so by denouncing the Chinese government’s use of force and imposing limited economic sanctions while also rejecting congressional calls to revoke certain trade preferences.
Additionally, H.W. wrote a private letter to Deng Xiaoping, the current Chairman “in a spirit of genuine friendship” and proposed sending a personal emissary to Beijing to discuss lowering tensions. Xiaoping agreed and wrote back —
“We can both do more for world peace and for the welfare of our own people if we can get our relationship back on track (p. 193).”
Without overt publicity, H.W. handled this conflict, leading to two decades of economic growth benefitting both nations while also increasing prospects of political reform in China.
Another major diplomatic point of contention was the United States’ relationship with the Soviet Union. In May 1989, H.W. asserted that the United States would transition from a “containment” strategy to a cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union. In July 1989, H.W. traveled to Hungary and Poland and continually reiterated his desire for a close relationship to current Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, including sending a letter asking to sit down to talk with him. Gorbachev agreed and the two met in Malta in December 1989.
After hours of discussion, the United States offered an economic aid package to help with the Soviet’s crumbling economy while also reiterating the importance of the Soviets using a peaceful approach to the upheaval in Central and Eastern Europe. With both China and the Soviet Union, H.W. was often criticized for not being strict enough; however, in both instances, H.W.’s approach was overall successful.
The next foreign relations crisis emerged in Panama. The country’s dictator, Manuel Noriega, was becoming increasingly less cooperative with the United States as he gained power and wealth through his increasing involvement with the drug trade.
After multiple failed attempts to amend the relationship, H.W. approved an invasion plan designed to overthrow Noriega. This operation required twenty thousand American troops to storm the island and remove Noriega. The night before the mission was scheduled to launch, H.W. wrote,
“I’m thinking about the kids, that young 19-year-olds who will be dropped in tonight (p. 197).”
After the mission was completed, H.W. and Barbara visited a military hospital in San Antonio, where some of the wounded from Panama had been sent for treatment. During this visit, H.W. received a small American flag from a Marine; H.W. kept this flag on his desk for the rest of his presidency. W. reflects that his father taught him that the military must know that their President supports them.
On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, a key U.S. ally. In response, H.W. rallied a coalition of nations to pressure Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, and leader of the invasion, to leave Kuwait. European allies like Great Britain, West Germany, and France offered their support, in addition to the Soviet Union and Japan.
In conjunction with efforts initiated by the United Nations, H.W. gave Hussein multiple opportunities to change his ways; however, Hussein refused to comply. Because of this, H.W. decided to send troops to Kuwait as a part of Operation Desert Storm. W. states that he admired his father’s approach to the situation as well as his willingness to take his time and consider all options before jumping into war. He further states —
“It was as if his whole life — from his time in uniform to his service on Capitol Hill, to his diplomatic experience — had prepared him for the moment (p. 204).”
After only one hundred hours in Kuwait, Iraqi soldiers surrendered and the Gulf War ended. Saddam Hussein left Kuwait but retained power in Iraq. As W. entered into his own presidency, he was also faced with handling conflict with Hussein.
Next, H.W. faced the challenge of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Previously, H.W.’s strategy was to develop a friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev and encourage him to allow a peaceful unwinding of the Soviet Union. This strategy proved effective as Gorbachev agreed to allow a free election for President of the Russian Federation and eventually signed the paperwork disbanding the Soviet Union. H.W.’s relationship proved integral to a peaceful end to the Cold War.
Domestic Issues and Reelection
While tackling multiple foreign policy issues, the U.S. economy was in a recession, frustrating Americans and lowering the president’s approval ratings. The White House sought to invigorate the economy by lowering the deficit through spending cuts, hoping for lower interest rates that would restore consumer confidence and stimulate economic growth.
At the time, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and wanted to reduce the deficit by raising taxes rather than cutting spending — which directly opposed H.W.’s campaign promise of no new taxes. However, as agreement talks began, H.W. was also in the process of deploying troops to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. H.W. did not want to balance both a national security crisis and a budget crisis, so he agreed to a deal that included tax increases. W. argued that from an economic sense, the budget bill made sense, but was a political disaster, especially since the administration did not openly defend their decision to support the deal.
Throughout his presidency, H.W. achieved multiple domestic accomplishments. This included signing the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the Clean Air Act. He also issued an executive order called “Points of Light” that established a program to recognize and encourage volunteer organizations. Additionally, H.W. appointed two justices, David Souter and Clarence Thomas, to the Supreme Court.
As H.W. began his reelection campaign, W. was nervous about his father’s odds. The American people were predominantly focused on the struggling economy while H.W.’s reelection team lacked a lead strategist. H.W. also faced two major threats within the Republican primaries, Patrick J. Buchanan and H. Ross Perot.
While neither opponent gained substantial traction, their attacks within the primaries revealed fractures within the Republican Party. On the other front, H.W. faced opposition from Democratic Party nominee, Bill Clinton. Clinton recognized the importance of clear and simple campaign themes and continually stressed the ideas of bringing change to Washington and fixing the economy.
W. identified multiple flaws within his father’s reelection campaign, starting with the team’s initial strategy. W. argued that the campaign team did not consolidate support from the base of the Republican Party fast enough and that the campaign was often too focused on reacting, rather than leading. W. also argued the campaign was filled with continual distractions such as Ross Perot re-entering mid-race, Hurricane Andrew relief criticism, and the reemergence of the Iran-Contra debacle.
When the election results came in revealing his loss, W. described his father being gracious in defeat despite his disappointment. In the weeks following his loss, he invited Saturday Night Live comedian Dana Carvey, who had impersonated him throughout his presidency, to the White House to lift morale for members of the White House staff. W. states that this idea was “vintage George Bush,” because he was thinking of others and willing to laugh at himself.
H.W. transitioned out of the White House without self-pity and warmly welcomed Bill and Hillary Clinton to the White House. He started what has since become a tradition — the former president writing a letter to the new president offering wisdom and encouragement as he steps into the new role.
After leaving Washington, H.W. spent his time traveling, raising money for his presidential library at Texas A&M University, and co-authoring a book with Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Advisor during his presidency. Additionally, he enjoyed spending his time at Walkers Point, sitting on boards for causes he cared about such as the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and unexpectedly visiting students at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.
As H.W. was retiring from public service, two of his sons, W. and Jeb, entered, running for governor in Texas and Florida respectively. While Jeb did not win, W. was elected governor. W. also won reelection for Texas governor and began thinking of running for president. When he told his father, he unconditionally supported W. and encouraged him to chart his own course.
After winning the election, W.’s first call was to his parents. They were thrilled. Surprisingly though, H.W. also called Al Gore to congratulate him on his strong campaign, telling him “I’ve lost a few times myself and I know how you feel (p. 263).” Throughout W.’s presidency, the two didn’t talk much about policy.
Instead, H.W. took the role of providing the love and support needed when handling the pressures of the job.
After a massive tsunami in the Indian Ocean devastated several Asian countries, H.W. and Bill Clinton raised money and took a lengthy trip to the scene of the devastation. Over the course of that trip, H.W. and Clinton developed a deep friendship, so much so that Barbara took to calling Clinton her “long-lost fifth son (p. 271).” This friendship exemplified H.W.’s graciousness and ability to see the best in others, even from the man that defeated him in his reelection.
In 2010, H.W. was diagnosed with Parkinsonism, a condition similar to Parkinson’s disease that affected his ability to move his lower body. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, H.W. still lived joyfully by always wearing brightly colored socks since they were often the most visible part of his wardrobe.
W. finishes his recount of H.W.’s life through reiterating his father’s value in faith and family. His legacy stretches beyond the accomplishments of his career to his consistent embodiment of integrity, humility, and graciousness.
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