WARREN — Today has been designated as a day of national mourning as we remember the life of former President George H.W. Bush.
At 11 a.m., a memorial service will be held to commemorate his life at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
On Dec. 5, 1985 — 33 years ago today — Bush, then vice president to Ronald Reagan, became the first vice president to visit Warren.
“The eyes of the world are on President Bush, particularly tomorrow,” David Jones, CEO of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation in College Station, Texas, said on Tuesday.
“Everybody is going to be watching.”
Jones knows the late president and his wife, Barbara, who passed earlier this year, better than anyone from Warren.
He is a 1963 graduate of Warren Area High School who first started working with the late president in the 1970s doing advance work around the country. He was appointed as CEO of the Library Center in 2016.
“33 years ago, he was here in Warren,” Jones said, “and spoke on the courthouse steps. It wasn’t important, but it was there. It was the first time a vice-president had ever visited Warren… It’s a unique thing for our small town.”
Bush was born on June 12, 1924. He served in the Navy as a pilot during World War II and, according to a biography from the Associated Press, represented Texas in the U.S. House in the late 1960s prior to a string of appointments, Ambassador to the U.N., Chairman of the RNC, Chief U.S. liaison officer to China and CIA Director, all prior to his election as vice-president in 1980 and to the presidency in 1988.
Jones, like many others in the last few days, praised Bush’s “extraordinary career.”
But as many have done in the days since his passing, it was Bush’s character and dedication to service that is being remembered by the people who knew him.
“He was a person, when people got to know him, (there was an) extraordinary depth of character,” Jones said. “I know I’m biased. It’s not me, when you look at what people are saying from both sides of the political aisle.”
The Bush Library was founded 25 years ago and Jones explained that the former president “hated fundraising. He said to me and my predecessor, the first director of the Foundation, ‘Know I don’t ask for money.'”
But he did provide a list of 90 people that would and the list included “seven or eight prominent Democrats,” including former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill.
“You wouldn’t find that today,” Jones said, explaining that Bush developed “deep relationships” from his time in Congress and in his various appointments. “Those relationships became increasingly important to him.”
He noted that some suggest Bush had the most effective one-term presidency in our nation’s history, highlighting that he presided over the end of the Cold War and the war in Kuwait.
“He was prepared for what happened,” Jones said, indicating there is “no question” Bush had the best pre-presidency resume. His experience “prepared him for what came about in his time in office.”
But for Jones, Bush wasn’t just a president or some relatively abstract political figure.
“I did know him and Mrs. Bush,” he recalled, describing them as “two of the most down to earth people I would ever meet (that were) in public office at that level. (You) will hear that from almost everybody they encountered. He was so approachable. So down to earth. So caring. It permeated everything he did. It was just natural.”
President Bush died on Friday night in Houston.
His remains were flown back to Washington D.C. on Monday and he has been lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, a privilege afforded to only 29 other Americans, including Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
Hundreds of articles have been written by people remembering the impact Bush had on the life in the last couple days.
What has Jones been reflecting on?
“How fortunate I was, how honored I was to have known him.” he said. To play a “very small role in his life. (I’ve) just been blown away by the press coverage, the outpouring of affection.”
Jones said there are “lots of different stories” he could share but offered a couple related to the Bush Library.
“His mother impressed on him over the years that he should never brag on himself,” he said. “He used to talk about how that really shaped his life. The first time he ever toured the Presidential Library… he went through the exhibits.”
Jones said the president was “kind of quiet as he was going through it. One of his staff members asked him what he thought.”
“There’s too much about me in here.”
Jones said the response was “just so him and how he would react.”
He also said that at the end of the Library’s exhibits there is a kiosk where visitors can print a letter to themselves from President Bush.
“Both of them (George and Barbara) spent a lot of time at the Library,” Jones said, indicating the president “loved” to lecture at the The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M that was founded in conjunction with the Library.
“They were there a lot. He loved to go into the Library and would walk up behind people” as the letters were printing and would offer to sign them “and then he would get to know them. There are so many stories like that. That was him. He knew restaurant waiters by name. It was so genuine. They never worked at it. It was just who they were. He’ll be missed.”
Jones is cognizant of the role the Library now plays as “keepers” of the Bush legacy.
“What a legacy they left behind.”
David Jones, the CEO of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, provided the talking points from then-Vice President Bush’s speech given on the steps of the Warren County Courthouse 33 years ago today on Dec. 5, 1985.
It’s great to be here today with Congressman Clinger and all of you. I’m told this is the first time a Vice President has visited Warren. I’m proud of that — proud to be here.
This is the first week of deer hunting season, and it reminded me of a story.
Two hunters were talking through the woods. But instead of one finding a deer, they happened upon an angry bear. One fellow sat down immediately and started putting on a pair of track shoes. His friend said, ‘Hey wait a minute, you know you can’t out-run a bear. And the hunter replied, I don’t have to out run the bear. I only have to out run you.’
You know, sometimes in Washington I feel like I ought to carry track shoes too. But the best part of my job is that I get to leave Washington and travel around our great country – meeting people and visiting beautiful towns like this.
And the spirit I feel all across America is one of strength and optimism.
America is expanding opportunity and creating new jobs, more new jobs in the last three years than Japan and Europe combined. Parts of Northwest Pennsylvania have been hit hard. But we are making real progress. And President Reagan and I are fighting to keep the jobs America already has and create new ones. More Americans are at work today than at any time in our history. But President Reagan and I won’t rest until every American who wants a job has a job.
America’s strength at home and given us strength in our relations abroad. Several weeks ago when President Reagan gave the order to force out of the sky a plane carrying escaping hijackers, I know you were proud… and let me tell you, I’m proud to serve with a President who knows how to act and who doesn’t go around apologizing for America.
And I’m proud of something else, three weeks ago President Reagan met in Geneva with General Secretary Gorbachev. Years of working for a stronger defense… Years of working for the confidence that comes from allies when we have a strong and decisive foreign policy… all those years of work are paying off in a new, realistic start in U.S.-Soviet relations. And the world’s a safer place because of it.
I’m proud of America’s new strength. I’m proud that America once more stands up confidently for what it believes in around the world. I’m proud that there is new optimism throughout our land.
I’m proud to live and serve in the greatest, freest nation on the face of the earth. And I know this goes for you, too… I know this goes for all of us… I’m proud to be an American.
God bless you, and God bless this great country.