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.

 

 

 

From the News

Worth Remembering

I have mixed feelings about blogging on the topic of the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  There is such a fine line between commemorating the nation’s resilience, loss of lives, and heroic responses and celebrating the success of the terrorists.

I thought I would write about where I was when I heard the news, how I ran to the school to bring my children home, how the busy skies around our house were silent when air travel halted. But every time I thought about rehashing all of it, I wondered about the point of those memories.

We’ve heard the words, “Never Forget” so many times but how can anyone who lived through it forget? It’s impossible.

One of the images stuck in my head is my burly  brick mason brother hearing the news at a construction  job site then later, sitting on a curb opening his metal lunchbox, and putting his head in his hands and sobbing.

We all have these kinds of images stored in our memories. We don’t need reminders about what it was like on that day, and all the days that followed.

I remember listening to President Bush address the nation, and crying through the entire speech. It was one of the most eloquent speeches I’ve ever heard.

So whether you like George Bush or “don’t love him” like my mom, I think his speech deserves remembering:

“In the normal course of events, Presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the Union. Tonight, no such report is needed. It has already been delivered by the American people.

We have seen it in the courage of passengers, who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground — passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer. And would you please help me to welcome his wife, Lisa Beamer, here tonight. We have seen the state of our Union in the endurance of rescuers, working past exhaustion. We’ve seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers — in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own. My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of our Union — and it is strong.

Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done. I thank the Congress for its leadership at such an important time. All of America was touched on the evening of the tragedy to see Republicans and Democrats joined together on the steps of this Capitol, singing “God Bless America.” And you did more than sing; you acted, by delivering 40 billion dollars to rebuild our communities and meet the needs of our military. Speaker Hastert, Minority Leader Gephardt, Majority Leader Daschle, and Senator Lott, I thank you for your friendship, for your leadership, and for your service to our country. And on behalf of the American people, I thank the world for its outpouring of support. America will never forget the sounds of our National Anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris, and at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

We will not forget South Korean children gathering to pray outside our embassy in Seoul, or the prayers of sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo. We will not forget moments of silence and days of mourning in Australia and Africa and Latin America. Nor will we forget the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own: dozens of Pakistanis; more than 130 Israelis; more than 250 citizens of India; men and women from El Salvador, Iran, Mexico, and Japan; and hundreds of British citizens. America has no truer friend than Great Britain. Once again, we are joined together in a great cause — so honored the British Prime Minister has crossed an ocean to show his unity with America. Thank you for coming, friend.

On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars — but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war — but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning.  Americans have known surprise attacks — but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day — and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.

After all that has just passed — all the lives taken, and all the possibilities and hopes that died with them — it is natural to wonder if America’s future is one of fear.  Some speak of an age of terror. I know there are struggles ahead, and dangers to face. But this country will define our times, not be defined by them. As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world.

Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war.  The advance of human freedom — the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time — now depends on us. Our nation, this generation will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.

It is my hope that in the months and years ahead, life will return almost to normal.  We’ll go back to our lives and routines, and that is good.  Even grief recedes with time and grace. But our resolve must not pass. Each of us will remember what happened that day, and to whom it happened. We’ll remember the moment the news came — where we were and what we were doing. Some will remember an image of a fire, or a story of rescue. Some will carry memories of a face and a voice gone forever.

And I will carry this: It is the police shield of a man named George Howard, who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others. It was given to me by his mom, Arlene, as a proud memorial to her son. This is my reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end. I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.

Fellow citizens, we’ll meet violence with patient justice — assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America. Thank you.”

To me, that is worth remembering.