Cal Thomas: The character of President George H.W. Bush

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, December 6th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Next up, Cal Thomas shares some of his personal memories of America’s 41st president.

CAL THOMAS, COMMENTATOR: I first met the man who would become America’s 41st president in 1968. He was a Houston congressman and I was a young reporter for a local TV and radio station. My first impression was how kind he was to this “kid,” who had just moved to Texas from the Washington, D.C., area. I was still trying to learn the “language,” phrases like “fixing to go” and “y’all.”

I would have many more meetings with George H.W. Bush over the following decades. While the context and the setting changed, his kindness never did.

Mr. Bush was a letter writer like none other. I think I have an almost complete collection of his notes and letters, some typed, some handwritten, from every position he held in public life. These include congressman, Republican National Committee chairman, chief liaison officer to the People’s Republic of China, U.N. ambassador, CIA director, vice president, and president.

When he became president, I wrote him a congratulatory note and he responded on White House stationery. I later told him I was keeping the letter—quote— “just in case you amount to something.” He laughed.

One time we were scheduled to meet at Walker’s Point, the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, where they had vacationed for decades. Mr. Bush had to cancel due to an unexpected visit from an ambassador. Apparently concerned that my feelings would be hurt, he instructed an aid to get my phone number. This was before cellphones had become ubiquitous, so I gave him the number of a payphone at a local hardware store. He personally called me to apologize.

During one of my visits to the Oval Office when he was president, Mr. Bush invited me to sit in a chair next to him while he sat behind that iconic desk. A photographer captured the moment. When I showed that photo some years later to his son, the 43rd president, he motioned me over to the same desk. We sat down and replicated the photo. I have both hanging in my office.

Any epitaph on the life of George H.W. Bush must include at least three words: character, honor and integrity. From his service in World War II, to his political career and post-presidency, not to mention his faithfulness to Barbara, his wife of 73 years, he was an example to many.

Perhaps one of the reasons he seems so attractive is his contrast with the current bitter and corrosive political climate. We are not likely to see his kind again, but we will have his memory and example to recall when considering the definition of the word gentleman.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Cal Thomas.

(AP Photo/Scott Applewhite, File) In this Nov. 8, 1988 file photo, President-elect George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara wave to supporters in Houston, Texas after winning the presidential election. 

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