I was always taught that the way in which one handles adversity is a sign of one’s true character. That’s true. What I learned from President Bush, though, is that how you deal with success is also a sign of one’s character.
From 1985 to 1990, I was George H.W. Bush’s personal aide, which meant being with him from the start of his day until late in the evening when his events were finished. At one moment, I was managing his briefing materials and carrying his bags, and the next, I was determining whether an urgent phone call actually merited interrupting the Vice President.
All of us who worked for George Bush knew he was driven by his consideration for and service to others. He was a servant leader, careful to make sure all of us felt appreciated. Each evening, he’d offer a word of thanks to the staff and the agents who supported him that day. “Thanks, Marshals,” he’d call out as he entered his hotel room. (“Marshals” was his affectionate nickname for the Secret Service agents on his detail.)
I confess to occasionally using that consideration for others to my advantage. Keeping the president on schedule generally wasn’t that difficult; he was fanatical about being on time. Occasionally, however, he’d linger at an event. My “secret weapon” was to say to the president, “Sir, I’m sorry, but we’ve got to go. The agents have shut down the motorcade route.” That was enough to send him racing to the limo — determined that the locals not be inconvenienced.
For such a decorated war hero — in fact, one of the youngest Naval aviators of his time — he didn’t talk all that much about his service during World War II. Over time, however, it was clear to me from his speeches and seeing him with others with whom he’d served, just how formative his military service was to him.
Like many veterans, he could be nostalgic, and sometimes emotional, especially when he was together with shipmates from the USS Finback (SS-230) who rescued him when his plane was shot down during WWII. As he was preparing to run for president in 1988, he struggled a bit with how to talk about his experiences during the war.
Many years later, he still felt great distress over his fellow crewmen who were lost when their plane was shot down. Nonetheless, I believe his time in the service reinforced his dedication to serving others throughout his life.
“Sending someone else’s son or daughter into combat is the hardest decision a president ever makes,” he said years later.
In January 1986, after having been the vice president’s aide for only a couple of months, we were in his West Wing office watching the launch of the Challenger space shuttle (the launch of a NASA space shuttle was still a really big deal at the time, and this particular mission included the school teacher Christa McAuliffe). Then, the unthinkable happened: the Challenger exploded a minute after liftoff. The world stopped. Within a couple of hours, we were on Air Force Two, flying to Florida to be with the families of the Challenger crew.
I’ll never forget how moving it was to witness the vice president express his grief and that of the nation. It’s well known that H.W. Bush was a “crier,” but his emotions were always sincere, and in sharing the pain and sadness with the Challenger families that day he helped to ease their burden.
One of the president’s great strengths was his ability to comfort and connect with people. Humor was a big part of it. He loved to laugh, and he loved to make people laugh. He and Mrs. Bush found humor in everything and laughed all the time. His humility and integrity — his sense of humor and sincerity — made him a magnet to the people who came into his orbit.
During the time I served at George H.W. Bush’s side, I admired his abiding concern for others, from world leaders to the humblest in the room. In a letter the president wrote to me as I was leaving the post as his aide, he described the characteristics he valued most in a person.
“The way you care about all including the ‘little guys’ along the way … ” he wrote, “Your decency and sense of honor … your faith — all of these add up to special qualities in a special person.”
That’s you, Mr. President.
Timothy McBride was a member of George H.W. Bush’s vice presidential and presidential staffs, serving as the president’s personal aide or private secretary for five years.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.