The first thing that surprised me, when I first met then Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush was that he answered the door himself, when I knocked at the Westin Hotel in downtown Cincinnati. I was cleared through security in the hotel lobby downstairs but still expected the man running for President to be surrounded by Secret Service agents. I introduced myself and he knew Newsradio 700WLW was the home of the Reds and before we started our interview he wanted to talk baseball.
Cincinnati hosted baseballs All-Star Game the year Bush was running for President and the captain of Yale's baseball team was still stinging from overthrowing the catcher with the ceremonial first pitch. He talked about his grandfather being from Ohio and how his wife Barbara used to live in the Dayton area. He said he loved Cincinnati chili and Batsakes Hat Shop and again surprised me, this time with how personable he was.
I had covered the VP before but had never met him in person and being a young, idealistic reporter was still determined to pepper him with tough questions in spite of the pleasantries we had exchanged. The national media at the time had painted George H. Bush as something of a wimp, criticizing him for always standing by President Ronald Reagan. Bush told me he used to "get sore about it" but said he had gotten over it. He saw it as his job to support the President no matter what and that is what he did.
The former Navy Pilot and CIA Chief said he always wanted his life to be about public service. He said his ideas might be "old fashioned" but felt strongly that most people in public life were honorable and that was why he treated everyone the same, whether they were Republican or Democrat. Or if they were members of the media like me. When I suggested that he was viewed as a "weak leader" he didn't get angry and without hesitation, suggested that I ask that question of "the people he flew with when he was shot down in combat at the age of 20 years old."
Today's politicians could learn a great deal from the 41st President. He was constantly lampooned by members of the media like editorial cartoonist Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury fame but instead of firing back he laughed it off. Bush told me he met Trudeau once and walked right up and shook his hand. His philosophy with dealing with the media: "let them do their thing and I'll do mine." Thirty years ago, Bush told me that public service is not about "jumping around, waiving your arms and trying to get attention." He said you cannot be considered a success in life without serving others.
LISTEN TO A PORTION OF THE 1988 INTERVIEW BELOW: