Memorable Encounters with George H.W. Bush
June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018
My friend and colleague, John Flynn, recently reminded me of some memorable occasions on which I had the honor of meeting George H.W. Bush. I was sad to hear of Mr. Bush’s passing but grateful for all his contributions to our society during his 94 years on this Earth.
I have four brief stories I would like to share in reminiscence of this man who demonstrated exceptional leadership and integrity in his many roles as a public servant.
The first time I met Mr. Bush was when he spoke at a New York Life Chairman’s Cabinet meeting, and my wife and I had dinner with him. I was telling him about the trips I take every year with my kids. Mr. Bush asked if my boys liked to fish, after which he recommended the Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, Florida. He said he went there often to catch bonefish. A couple of months later, I took both of my boys to Cheeca Lodge, where we had a wonderful trip.
Several months later, when Mr. Bush spoke at a New York Life board meeting, I re-introduced myself to him during the reception. His first words were, “Did you take your boys to Cheeca Lodge?” It absolutely blew me away that he remembered me and our conversation.
At GAMA International’s annual LAMP meeting in Boston, after Mr. Bush spoke to a large audience, my wife, our sons and I had our photo taken with him. The boys were young and were in awe of a former president of the United States, but nervousness changed to smiles when I reminded them that he had recommended Cheeca Lodge. John Flynn recalled that the president’s speech ran long, and when he arrived at the luncheon, his Secret Service security specialist asked if he wanted to skip the pictures. Mr. Bush said, “No…I’ll skip lunch to make sure everyone who wants a picture gets one.” Later, I had a very late lunch with Mr. Bush, and he was charming. Once again, we spoke of family, and he talked a lot about Barbara Bush and her passion for childhood literacy. I, too, was in awe of being in his presence, but I was surprisingly comfortable and relaxed.
Finally, I was attending a business meeting in Las Vegas about eight years ago and was working out in a very large gym that was quite crowded at 6:30 a.m. While I was on an exercise bike, Jeb Bush came in and sat on the exercise bike next to mine. We struck up a conversation. Later that day, after he finished making a keynote presentation, I told him the Cheeca Lodge story. He smiled and responded by saying, “That doesn’t surprise me at all. Dad has always been focused first on family. That’s probably why he remembered your story of the trips you took annually with your kids.”