By Arnie Leshin
It was as usual a busy day at the annual U.S. Open Tennis Championships played at Flushing Meadow/Corona Park in the New York borough of Queens.
From where the media sat, it was well above the center court. That’s where we wrote our stories. If we wanted to watch the action, we’d get a reserved seat media pass and follow the bouncing ball not far from the court.
On this day, I sat in the last row of the huge press box, checked my notes, and wrote. It was not a time to be interrupted.
Suddenly, one of the entrances just to my left flung open. Next, one and two and than three men in suits and shirts appeared and checked out each row. Not long after, the door opened again, and in strode the Vice President of the US of A, George H.W. Bush.
He was all smiles, waved, and then stopped alongside me to shake my hand. When I asked him if he was going to write up this international event, he cuffed both of my hands, gave a broad smile, and answered, “Not me, but Barbara is down there keeping notes.”
Quickly, he followed one of the security guards up and down each isle, and didn’t forget anyone. Then he thanked everyone and left surrounded by theconcerned security guards.
For me, that was quite a moment. He was the vice president under Ronald Reagan, was referred to as a popular man, low key, an honor student who graduated from prestigious Yale University as an academic student and team captain of the baseball team. He was thought of as one of the better first basemen in the land and led the Bulldogs to a pair of College World Series appearances.
He fought in World War II hero as an officer and pilot in the US Navy, never bragged, just did what a good American would do, never complaining about injuries and never making a big deal about his heroics that brought medals and other awards.
When I was covering major league baseball’s Yankees, his oldest son, George W., was than one of the owners of the Texas Rangers, and while at Yankee Stadium, informed New York owner George Steinbrenner he’d rather sit in the press box instead of in the suite of the boss.
Mission accomplished, I did manage to have a few words with him and speak about the time his dad stepped into the huge press box of the media, and he got a kick out of it, especially when I told him how the Vice President credited Barbara. He laughed, cuffed my two hands as his dad did, and thanked me for joining him.
Not bad within a short span of time to speak with two men, George H.W. and George W, who would later become presidents of the United States. I could never forget this.
And I can never forget the 41st president. He did so much for this country, was a true American, a statesman, and after his popular one term as president, it was thought that he was runningagainst Bill Clinton as his duty as a politician and was leading in the poll two weeks before the election and told his sons, George and Jeb, that he would rather be out fishing and would cut short his campaign.
So he came in behind Clinton, but he did beat out independent millionaire Russ Perot, whose votes and those of Clinton, were what won the election, but Bush still maintained his popularity and make fishing plans.
He was one of the one-term presidents to hold office and be popular, even with the Democrats. After he won this election, he told the nation to “Read my lips, no more taxes.” That fell short late in his term when a change in taxes was necessary.
But he did great things. In 1990, he sent our troops to Desert Storm and made it into a short war that was figured out as 100 hours, nothing like the lengthy ones that followed and continued. Foreign policy success were the hallmark of his presidency.
He became close friends with Clinton. They worked on domestic and international problems together and Clinton always said, “I love this guy.”
And Bush often said, “Who would have thought I would be working with Bill Clinton of all people.”?
Bush campaigned but did not participate a whole lot in son George’s two terms as president or in son Jeb’s two terms as governor of Florida.
He had a remarkable married life with Barbara. They had been married 73 years when she passed away eight months ago. He was not doing well in his final years, but never lost his sense of humor and made it to 94 years when he died last Friday.
He showed his feelings when Reagan died. He wiped away tears and hugged Nancy Reagan many times. He touched the casket a few times, just as 95-year-old Bob Dole, a former senator, a long-time friend, politician, war hero, did as he was helped out of his wheelchair in the rotunda.
No .41 was a good man. Not the best of speakers, but he often offset this by telling it like it is, just the truth, and always got a few jokes in. His speeches were delivered with a nasal voice and clipped cadence that invited parody. Rarely did he display the kind of emotional activity that could move an audience.
Yet for all these moments, Bush could exhibit a gracious charm and authenticity. He was that rare figure in the nation’s capitol, a man without enemies or with very few at any rate. He was kind, a most generous man, a most gentle soul.
President Donald Trump, who attended with the first lady, will not deliver the eulogy. That will come Thursday by George W and was a decision made by the family.
But Trump paid only respect and praise to the Bush family, as did first lady Melania. He ordered the federal government to close Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags are flying on public buildings at half-staff for 30 days in respect for the former president.
No one is perfect, but George H.W. Bush was often perfecto in any language. May he rest in peace.