Evoking at one point the “kinder and gentler” phrase that identified his presidency, George Herbert Walker Bush spoke Oct. 26 at the centennial celebration of Louisiana College about the things that matter in life.
PINEVILLE, La. – Evoking at one point the “kinder and gentler” phrase
that identified his presidency, George Herbert Walker Bush spoke Oct.
26 at the centennial celebration of Louisiana College about the things
that matter in life.
He talked about friends, family and the satisfaction of public service
to a packed auditorium of students, faculty, media and a few selected
guests, and gave much the same humor-laced speech at a luncheon an hour
later open to anyone who paid $750.
“The message I tried to convey as president and the same gospel I try
to preach today is that there can be no definition of a successful life
that does not include service to others,” President Bush said.
“You don’t have to be president to be a leader; you don’t have to be
first lady to make a difference, to touch the lives of your fellow
man,” the former president said. “All you have to do is care, roll up
your sleeves and claim one of society’s problems as your own.”
One of the most exciting things he’s done in his life was to help a
friend start the YMCA in Midland, Texas, in 1952, the former president
said. He urged his listeners to get involved in their community.
“I’m an optimist about America,” President Bush said. “To me, one of
the unchanging foundations that has kept this nation strong and free
and a beacon of hope to the entire world after 230 years of change and
challenge is the innate propensity, the natural inclination of
Americans to help one another in times of need.”
He spoke of the billions of dollars given by Americans to help with
tsunami relief, and billions more to help with recovery from the
Katrina and Rita hurricanes in 2005 along the Gulf Coast.
President Bush was in New Orleans a month ago, he said, and several
months ago with former President Bill Clinton, in their partnership to
raise money to help in recovery efforts.
“We’ve got to recognize that a lot of people there are still hurting,”
President Bush said. “We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and help.”
Many people have commented on his partnership with former President Clinton, President Bush said.
“I’m pleased that the [current] President asked President Clinton and
me to partner up, and to be honest, I like President Clinton,”
President Bush said. “We have divergent views on politics … but when it
comes to doing something bigger than ourselves, we’ve enjoyed working
with each other. I hope it sends a good signal. …
“My point to the young people here today is because you run against
some guy, that doesn’t mean you have to be enemies in life. … I’ve
enjoyed the association because I think we’re having a positive impact.”
The former president’s voice choked when describing what he saw in tsumani-ravaged areas.
“The hardest part was seeing the children,” he said, after describing
the picture a little girl had drawn for him that showed an angry sea, a
boat in a tree floating by, and way in the distance, one tiny face –
the child had watched her mother be overtaken, a teacher explained.
“The kids were innocent victims and they have nothing left in this
world, so Clinton and I were trying to help.”
During his 24-minute talk, President Bush mentioned the stand he took
on broccoli, which earned him the affection of 4-year-olds but cost him
the votes of all the farmers in the nation; and the time he threw up on
the prime minister of Japan.
“Even after 13 years, I’m asked about that all the time,” President Bush said. “I was famous for that.”
He told what he said was an “old story” about how, early in his son’s
presidency, the current president came in all sweaty from a run, and
plopped down in his parent’s bedroom, as is the family’s habit at the
end of each day, to read a newspaper.
“George, take your feet off my table!” Barbara Bush said, according to
her husband. “I said, ‘Darling, the guy is president of the United
States of America. It may be hard for you to realize that, but he is.’
“‘Oh, never mind,’ she said. ‘He knows better than that.’”
President Bush spoke just one sentence about his work as president:
“I really miss dealing with our superb, all-volunteer military force,”
he said. “I do not miss dealing with the Washington press corps. I can
now say I can’t stand them. They said that about me in 1992 and I can
now say, ‘Get equal.’
“The press has their job to do and these able members of the United
States Congress have their job to do and they’re mature individuals,”
President Bush continued. “They don’t let the criticism get them down
and I can assure you the President of the United States of America does
not let the criticism that comes Every Single Day get him down. He’s
strong, principled; he has my support. Of course he has my support,
with every fiber in my body.”
Extended applause filled Guinn Auditorium at those words.
“A lot of people are down on public service, politics in particular,”
President Bush said. He reminded his listeners that many times
throughout American history – the Civil Rights era is one example –
politics has been angrier or maybe meaner than it is today, but, he
added, “I do think the country wants more cooperation between people of
opposing views and opposing parties.
“1992 was the most hurtful year I and my family had gone through,”
President Bush said. “The press wanted change and they got it – big
time, I would say.” Listeners laughed appreciatively at the
understatement of the change between his presidency and that of Bill
“Do it,” the former president said. “Get involved. If you don’t, you
leave it to people who might not be as well motivated as you are. … Get
involved in your community. … At age 82, time is a friend to no one. I
had my chance and did my very best. … I loved every minute – almost
every experience – of these 40 years, but at the end, it’s about family
– not history, not titles, not wanting to sit at the head table. The
three most important titles are father, grandfather and husband. And
friendships and faith also are vitally important.”