Maryland Republicans who knew President George H.W. Bush reflected on their interactions with the nation’s 41st president this weekend as the nation mourned his passing at the age of 94.
Although Bush was born to privilege and reached the nation’s highest political offices, GOP leaders said they found him to be a remarkably warm man who brought an engaging, approachable style to his dealings with others.
“I think he represented a different brand of Republican politics in that he made an effort to reach out to everybody,” said John Kane, former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.
“He was just self-effacing. It was not to be all about him, [unlike] other occupants of the White House, particularly the current one. It’s ‘we’re here to get an agenda done that helps people.’”
Ellen Sauerbrey, the former minority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates and two-time GOP gubernatorial nominee, offered similar memories.
At a lunch event during her tenure as head of the American Legislative Exchange Council, Sauerbrey found herself seated next to then-Vice President Bush.
“I remember coming home and saying, ‘My gosh, it was just like sitting with your next-door neighbor.’ He was just so completely down to earth, unpretentious, easy to talk to. Just a kind, welcoming person.”
Sauerbrey said Bush agreed to speak at an ALEC event at the White House shortly after the assassination attempt on President Reagan in the spring of 1981.
“Everybody was quite upset, obviously, but he was very encouraging. [He said] that things were going to be fine [and that] the president was going to pull through.”
Later, at the urging of Marriott Chairman J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr., Bush agreed to speak at a fundraiser for Sauerbrey in 1997, as she was gearing up to run for governor a second time. It took place at a Marriott hotel in Tysons Corners, Va.
Kane, a former trucking magnate, said his first interactions with the Bush family traced back to contracts his father’s company had following the 1980 elections, moving the defeated Carters and Mondales out of the White House and vice president’s residence, and the Reagans and Bushes in.
“They were just very nice people — and he set that tone,” Kane said.
“He was never the type to scan the room to see who he would talk to. When you spoke to him he was genuine in his interest in listening to you. When I would see him again, he would almost pick right up on the conversation. ‘Hey, how are those trucks doing there, Kane?’”
Bush came to Maryland “three or four times,” he said, to help party leaders generate interest in the Maryland GOP, an outgrowth of his tenure as head of the RNC during Watergate.
Sauerbrey credited Bush for his handling of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the downfall of the Soviet Union, noting, “He did not overuse American power.”
Kane said it was Bush’s experience as a diplomat that helped him nudge Reagan, a fabled Cold Warrior, to take a different approach to the Soviet Union.
“Reaching out to [then-Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, I don’t think would have happened had it not been for George H.W. Bush. Reagan would have had no reason to do so had it not been for Bush bringing a different, more worldly view to it.”
Kane also recalled Bush’s advocacy for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“If you’re disabled, that’s the equivalent of the Civil Rights Act, because that sets you free… to perform and be free and pursue opportunities.”
In a statement, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) noted that his father served alongside Bush in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“George H.W. Bush’s lifetime of service and decades of dedication to honor and duty leave an indelible mark on our nation and on our hearts. He will always represent the very best America has to offer in public life: toughness with civility, firmness with kindness, and strength of conviction with force of character.”
In a post on Facebook, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) said: “George H.W. Bush served our country with dignity, integrity, and a commitment to American values — from his courage in WWII to many other positions in government to the White House. He understood the virtues of civility and mutual respect in public life. He will be greatly missed. Katherine and I send our condolences to the entire Bush family.”
Hogan ordered that Maryland flags be flown at half-staff through Dec. 30 in Bush’s honor.