Integrity: President Bush shares his memories of Midland
It took awhile to make contact with Bush. I had made a number of attempts through his press people in Dallas. Weeks went by, months even, and finally I received an email from someone who identified himself as Bush’s press relations person in Dallas. Attached in the email were the former president’s responses to the questions I had asked him about his time in Midland, both as a child and later when he returned as a oilman and community volunteer.
Needless to say, I was impressed the president would take the time to share stories about his Little League days, about riding his bike and getting into water gun fights and throwing dirt clods with close friend Charlie Younger.
The former president also wrote of his decision to visit Midland on his way to and from Washington at the opening and closing of his presidency, and admits he had nothing to do with Air Force One’s decision to “buzz” downtown Midland on that return trip. If you were there, you likely remember the huge plane over Centennial Plaza. It was an impressive sight.
Bush responded to more than three pages of questions I sent, and closed his correspondence with a, “Thank you for doing this, Jimmy. I hope it helps.” It was a nice touch to close out a letter that frankly he didn’t have to complete. But his friends in Midland would not have been surprised at the news that he had taken the time.
In addition to the stories shared by Bush, there are a number of stories shared about him, by Joe O’Neill, Charlie Younger and U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway. Each of them provides great insight into the kind of person Bush was when he lived in Midland — which is to say the kind of person he still is even though he may live elsewhere.
One of my favorite stories concerns the friendship shared by Younger and Bush.
The following is an excerpt from “A History of Character: The Story of Midland, Texas.”
“President Bush asked me, ‘Do you want to go to the movies?’ There was a movie being screened downstairs at the White House. It was a private showing of ‘We Were Soldiers.’ We go down and have a nice dinner before the movie. It was my wife and me, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, all these people who are involved in defense and national security. Hal Moore, who the movie was about, was there, along with Joe Galloway, the famous journalist who was in Vietnam, and then all the actors, Mel Gibson, Greg Kinnear. It was kind of surreal to watch the movie with the cabinet members, the actors, and the president and first lady.”
Like many others who knew the president, Younger insists he is the same person today as he was when he knew him in the 1970s.
“He enjoyed being president until I guess about the last two months,” Younger said. “He really did wake up every day, truly relishing being the president of the United States. His values, his work ethic, his beliefs, have all stayed the same. He hasn’t changed to this day. I don’t think he'll ever change. He just happened to be the president.”
Conaway shared a personal story about the effort President Bush put forth soon after the congressman had learned his first wife had cancer.
“When my first wife was diagnosed with leukemia, George would come over and get our boys and take them to Midland College basketball games,” Conaway remembered. “He didn’t have to do that. He couldn’t do anything about Julia’s treatment, but he could come by and be with the boys, and that’s what he did.”
Conaway jokes about his former business partner when the two ran Arbusto Energy, saying he would have rather been business partners when Bush was owner of the Texas Rangers.
“I’d have made a lot more money,” Conaway joked. “He invited the boys and me up after Julia died. He had us as his guests at the last game the Rangers played in their old stadium and the first one in the Ballpark in Arlington. We were standing there watching batting practice before one of the games, and he walked up behind us and said, ‘This is my own personal field of dreams.’”
Jimmy Patterson's book, “A History of Character: The Story of Midland, Texas” will be published in September.