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Bush remembered in Springfield as warm, gracious

State Journal Register

Thursday, December 6, 2018  |  Article  |  Bernard Schoenburg

President GEORGE H.W. BUSH is being remembered as warm and gracious by people in Springfield who interacted with him.

 

The 41th president, who was elected in 1988 and served a single term after being President RONALD REAGAN’s vice president, had a series of visits to Springfield over his long career.

 

Bush died Friday at age 94. A funeral service was held in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

 

MARK SCHMIDT of Springfield met Bush in 1979, when he was director of communications for the Illinois Republican Party — then chaired by DON “DOC” ADAMS of the capital city. He recalls Bush, with no staff alongside, stopping by the office near the Statehouse.

 

“Hi, I’m George Bush,” Schmidt recalls. “I’m running for president of the United States.”

 

Bush had been chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973-74, and Schmidt said he liked to stop by GOP offices to “get a feel for what was happening.”

 

Bush ended up losing his bid for president in 1980 to Reagan — and Schmidt was among Republicans at the Republican National Convention in Detroit. Schmidt said he got tipped off that Bush was likely to be named Reagan’s running mate.

 

Within an hour, Schmidt encountered Bush in the lobby of a Detroit hotel.

 

“He was just in shirt sleeves, no entourage, no Secret Service protection,” Schmidt said. “I just walked up to him, extended my hand ... and said, ‘Congratulations, Mr. Vice President.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’”

 

Three weeks later, Adams hosted a meeting of state GOP chairmen from across the country in St. Charles, and Bush addressed the group.

 

“He walked in the door, saw me standing there, came over, extended his hand and said, ’Boy, I don’t know how you knew, but you knew,” Schmidt recalled. “We got a chuckle out of it.”

 

Schmidt — now retired as Hope School’s chief communication officer — also joined Adams at an RNC meeting when Bush was vice president, and Bush and his wife, BARBARA, hosted people at that meeting at a reception at their official Washington residence. Schmidt’s wife at the time — now MOLLY BERNS — was pregnant with their son ANDREW, Schmidt said, and couldn’t make the trip.

 

At the reception, Adams mentioned that situation to Bush. Bush led Schmidt to a study, asked and got Molly’s name, and wrote her “a wonderful, gracious note,” Schmidt said.

“It’s one of my most valued mementos from working in the political arena,” said Berns — now executive director of the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission.

 

CARROLL SUTTON, Woodside Township clerk and a long-time volunteer for the Sangamon County GOP, was working at the county’s 1987 Lincoln Day event at what is now the Bank of Springfield Center.

 

At that event, Sutton and his wife got a picture taken with George and Barbara Bush.

 

“My wife likes to tell people that as we were lining up for the picture, the vice president put his arm around her. So she put her arm around him.”

 

“He was very polite,” Karen Sutton told me.

 

Carroll Sutton called Bush “a terrifically warm person.”

 

Carroll Sutton also traveled to Bush’s inauguration and has a nice picture of Bush waving from a car, apparently at the Suttons’ son, BRENT, who was about 10 at the time, near the White House.

 

Sutton also worked an event in 2000 when the Farm Progress Show came to Cantrall — and helped lead me to the former president, who was campaigning for his son, GEORGE W. BUSH, who that year would be elected president over Democrat AL GORE.

 

“We need a little integrity and honor back in the White House, and I think — I know — that George can do that,” the elder Bush, then 76, said of his son.

 

The election came after Democratic President BILL CLINTON — who beat the elder Bush in 1992 — had endured an impeachment proceeding stemming from his relationship with a former White House intern.

 

In 1992, Bush spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of 7,000 in the Coliseum at the State Fair.

 

“I plan a dramatic new effort to slash federal spending and get these taxes down,” he said at that event.

 

And back in 1988, when Bush was on his way to winning the presidency over Democratic Massachusetts Gov. MICHAEL DUKAKIS, Bush was in the Springfield area to attend a Republican state convention and view crop damage on the farm of RAYMOND POE — now the state’s agriculture director.

 

During that trip, Bush took on a prisoner furlough program in Massachusetts.

 

“We don’t let murderers out on vacations to terrorize innocent people,” Bush said.

 

ALAN LOWE, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, was the first director of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, which highlights the service of the 43rd president.

 

“They were terrific,” Lowe said of George H.W. and Barbara Bush. And he said the elder Bush’s single term will be seen as having a “huge impact.”

 

While Bush ultimately raised taxes after his famous “no new taxes” campaign line, Lowe looks at that turnaround in the light of service.

 

“There were obviously a lot of folks upset about the change,” Lowe said, “but it’s kind of courageous to think, well, now I have to do this. ... To me, the character is what counts.”

 

As for the tough-on-crime rhetoric, Lowe didn’t know all details but said every politician has to do some “pretty heavy fighting in the trenches” during a campaign.

 

Lowe noted the elder Bush’s extensive resume upon taking the presidency, including heading the CIA and being ambassador to the United Nations. Lowe said the single term was “very consequential” with foreign policy, including the Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and management of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

 

“On top of that, a lot of people forget the Americans with Disabilities Act was during his tenure,” Lowe said. “He was very supportive of that. ... He packed a lot into those four years.”

 

— Contact Bernard Schoenburg: bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com, 788-1540, twitter.com/bschoenburg.