Opinion | Hamilton: George H. W. Bush: Patrician prince
We “wee” folk tend to recall even minor interactions with America’s Ruling Class. One time, my then boss, Nebraska Governor Charles Thone, tasked Wonder Wife and me to help set up a reception at the Governor’s Mansion for then Vice President George. H.W. Bush. Our fears that Vice President Bush would be just another stiff aristocrat melted when he turned out to be warm, wonderful, and nice-as-pie. But that was just the first of our several encounters with George H.W. Bush.
In Nebraska, the major event for its majority political party takes the form of a luncheon during football season. The party faithful come from all over to fill Lincoln’s largest auditorium. As it is in Oklahoma as well, the first planning consideration has to do with the football schedule. Thus, our committee picked a Saturday when the Cornhuskers would be playing in some other state.
Governor Thone asked his former U.S. House colleague, Vice President George H.W. Bush, to be our guest speaker. The vice president readily accepted. All arrangements were on track until a major TV network made the Cornhusker’s away-game its Game of the Week. Panic ensued.
Solution? We would rent six JumboTron TV sets and place them around the auditorium so the faithful could dine and watch the football game at the same time. But wait. If the party faithful thought part of the football game would be interrupted by the vice president’s speech, we feared that luncheon ticket sales would plummet. Another solution? Ask the vice president to speak during halftime.
The White House switchboard connected me to a lady with a posh British accent. She knew absolutely nothing about American football. When I made our proposal, she exploded, “Are you insane! You cannot disrespect the Office of the Vice President over some mere football game!”
Gulp! So, I suggested that we might want to put the issue to the vice president himself. She said, “Well, we’ll see about that!” She hung up. About an hour later, the phone rang and a voice said, “Please hold for Vice President Bush.” The next voice was that of the Vice President Bush who said, “Listen Bill, (he had done his first-name homework) I would love to speak during halftime. Just make sure I get to watch the first half and the second half from my hotel room.”
We packed the floor of the auditorium with seating to match the number of ticket holders. But, at the last minute, Governor Thone directed us to take down several tables. “Why?” I asked. “Because,” he explained, “if there is even one empty seat, the press will say the event was not well attended.” So, when the crowd overflow became evident, we rushed to restore the tables. The next day, the press reported the auditorium was packed with people.
Vice President Bush appeared at half-time, finished his speech just as half-time ended, watched the rest of the game in his hotel room, and departed on Air Force Two. Following the event, the vice president’s advance team, the U.S. Secret detail for the event, and a happy bunch of local event planners repaired to Cliff’s Lounge for a well-deserved “wheels up” celebration.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame. He is the author of “The Wit and Wisdom of William Hamilton: the Sage of Sheepdog Hill.”
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