From the News, Memoir, Uncategorized

That Time I worked for the President

At this time of the American Presidential Inauguration, and since the hospitalization of George H.W. and Barbara Bush, I have been reminiscing about the privilege I had to work as the communications director for the Bush ‘41 Presidential Inauguration.

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I remember standing on the lawn of the flag-draped U.S. Capitol when he said he wanted his first official act as President to be offering a prayer for the nation.

With cameras rolling and the world watching, he asked God to make us strong to do his work and to yield to his will. He asked that we write on our hearts the words: “Use power to help people.”

That message resonated with Americans in 1989.

It resonates with me today.

140329064024-george-bush-10-horizontal-large-galleryOrganizing a Presidential inauguration is a mammoth job. From the day after the election, you have only a few short months to pull off one of the world’s most momentous events.

For those working for the George HW Bush inauguration, after the election in 1988, it meant transforming an old government warehouse into a professional office building in a matter of days – literally building walls, bringing in computers, desks, tables, phone systems – everything from the ground up, all geared toward ensuring the “peaceful transition of Presidential power” that is so uniquely American.

Working on the Presidential Inauguration was the most exhausting and intense professional experience of my life, but it gave me some cherished memories including:

  • Dancing at an Inaugural ball with my dad. My dad was a true-blue Utahn who believed the only clothes a man needed were flannel-shirts, Levi Strauss, boots, and a ball cap. He hated crowds, big cities, and nonsensical fuss of any kind. But, he flew to Washington, dressed up for one event after another, and even donned a tuxedo for an inaugural ball. He spun me around the dance floor like a pro. It was an unforgettable night for me, especially since he died a couple years later.
  • Sitting in the press box with President and Mrs. Bush to watch the inaugural parade. Honestly, even though it was one of the great honors of my life, I could barely keep my eyes open.
  • Having a gold “All Access” pass to every blocked off street, and every event going on in Washington during what is surely one of the grandest times in that beautiful city.
  • Going to a small party at the White House with the Bushes just after they moved in. I wrote in my journal about that event, “Doug kept whispering ‘is this really happening? Are we actually in the same room with the President and the First Lady? Are we seriously going to meet them? Pinch me and let me know this is really happening.’” I felt the same way.

stocksnap_rfky6o3x2gWhen we went through the receiving line, I introduced myself as the communications director, and he said, “Oh, well you certainly did an excellent job of communicating. We couldn’t have been happier.”

He then addressed the group of exhausted staff, thanked everyone for their work, and said, “There is an interesting mood in this room. I wouldn’t call it one of irritability, but there is certainly a tension from long hours and sleepless nights.”

Barbara leaned over to whisper something in his ear. He smiled, and then said, “Please be careful not to step on any of our grandchildren.”

That was an appropriate warning because there were children running around everywhere in the White House. The family definitely felt at home there. In fact, one of the Bush sons came into the reception wearing a casual jogging suit. I now wonder which one of the sons we saw that day…

As the President mingled with everyone in the room, he approached Doug and me, and stopped to visit. He took my hand in his, and held it throughout our conversation, which I thought was so warm and personable.

He asked to know more about us. I told him we were married just a few days before I took the job at the inauguration and that there was an article in Utah’s Deseret News that said immediately after our honeymoon, I left my husband for another man: George Herbert Walker Bush. The President laughed, and said to Doug, “You can have her back now on one condition: That we can call her back once in awhile because we need her energy.”

Meeting the President left an indelible impression on my life. I’ve always had great respect for him. So, on this 45th inauguration, I reflect on the 41st, and the President who called for “a kinder, gentler” America, and a man that prayed for the nation as his first official act as our great leader.

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At the end of his inaugural address, he said, “I see history as a book with many pages, and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness and meaning. The new breeze blows, a page turns, the story unfolds. And so, today a chapter begins, a small and stately story of unity, diversity, and generosity — shared, and written, together.”

A new breeze has blown, a page has been turned, and a new American story will unfold again. And I want to believe his words are as true today as they were in 1989 when he said, “There is much to do. And tomorrow the work begins…I do not mistrust the future. I do not fear what is ahead…Our problems are large, but our heart is larger. Our challenges are great, but our will is greater. And if our flaws are endless, God’s love is truly boundless.”

Thank you George HW Bush for that beautiful perspective. May it still ring true.

Happy Inauguration Day America.

 

 

 

Change, From the News, Memoir

A Peaceful Transition of Power

1989 Presidential Inaugration, George H. W. Bu...
1989 Presidential Inaugration, George H. W. Bush, Opening Ceremonies, at Lincoln Memorial (Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution)

Many years ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I had the privilege of working for a U.S. Presidential Inauguration.

George Herbert Walker Bush had just been elected President of the United States the week before I got married.

When Doug and I returned from our honeymoon and I returned to my job as the communications director for U.S. Senator Jake Garn, I got a telephone call from a friend and former colleague wondering if I would be willing to advise the inaugural committee on media relations and public affairs.

With my boss’ support, I left the office that day and went to the inaugural committee’s headquarters in SE Washington where they had transformed an old empty warehouse into a frenetic, exciting workplace for the President’s inauguration.

I walked in as a volunteer adviser and ended up as the new director of communications and taking a leave of absence from my Capitol Hill job.  I’d never worked in such an intense, fast-paced, exhilarating job in my life, and I never have since.

We had meetings for all the directors every morning and every evening and had a clock ticking the entire day, counting down to the swearing-in and all the traditional festivities that celebrate that historic moment.

I learned three of my most important life lessons in that job. At my first early morning meeting, the executive director, Stephen M. Studdert, went around the table and asked everyone to introduce themselves. I glanced around and noticed that I was one of three women at the table. I was 31 years old. Every one else had more experience, what I viewed as more prestigious jobs, and a history working with President Bush, either in the campaign, in Texas or in the White House when he served as Vice President.

The closer they got to me, the more nervous I became. The thought crossed my mind, “I have no business in this room with these people.” Right before it was my turn, an inner voice shot back, “That’s the last time ever that you are going to think like that. The minute you doubt your abilities, you’re done. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t qualified. If you give in to that way of thinking, you’ll fail. Now, just dig in and do this thing!

If I’d continued to compare myself to every other person in that room, I’d have walked out powerless and weak. And, I knew that in an environment like that, there was no room for insecurity and no time to nurse a case of fledgling confidence.

At every morning meeting, we received and/or shared our day’s goals. At every evening meeting, we reported on our progress. One of the directors got a little too long-winded in his report, and was quickly told, “Look, I don’t want your life story. Just get to the point.”

It’s true. We were marching toward inauguration day and didn’t have time for chitchat. The clock was steadily clicking. I learned to get to the point — fast.

The other more philosophical lesson I learned was the utter beauty of a “peaceful transition of power.” As I wrote press releases, arranged media interviews, and shaped messages, I marveled over the unique American ritual of a peaceful inauguration.

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Capitol 9 (Photo credit: afagen)

Today, as President Obama takes the public oath of office, I remember the day I stood in the press stands during President Bush’s inauguration and looked out at the throngs of people packing the lawn and the streets of the nation’s capitol.

Nothing brings greater feelings of patriotism that seeing all our American pageantry on display with our military bands; red, white and blue bunting around the Capitol building, and citizens from all over the country representing our nation’s uniqueness in the inaugural parade.

Despite your politics, take a minute today to appreciate America. In a world full of conflict, we should celebrate the honor of living in a country where a “peaceful” inauguration will once again occur — something we should never take for granted.