Ohio Valley recalls brushes with President George H.W. Bush
WHEELING — Former President George H.W. Bush was a man who admitted when a letter “brought tears to his eyes.”
He also acknowledged misspelling the word “eyes” when replying to the same letter, recalled Frankie Carnes, chairwoman of the Belmont County Board of Elections.
Carnes was among those in the Ohio Valley who were remembering America’s 41st president on the eve of his funeral. Bush died Friday in Houston.
Carnes was so emotional following Bush’s loss in the 1992 election that she penned him a letter telling him her thoughts.
“I told him how proud I was of him, and of what he did for the country,” she said.
Her husband, then Ohio Sen. Jim Carnes, R-St. Clairsville, hand-delivered the letter to Bush during a fundraiser both attended late in 1992 in Cleveland.
“That same night, he wrote me a note back,” Frankie Carnes said.
Bush had penned the note on Air Force 1 stationary.
He told her in the note that her letter “had brought tears to his eyes.” But a line was drawn through the word “eyes,” which Bush had misspelled and then corrected.
“He misspelled a word, crossed it out, and went on with the note,” Carnes said. “He was saying he can make mistakes, too.”
Carnes still has the note at her home in St. Clairsville.
“It’s treasure to me,” she said. “He was great, humble and a gentlemen. He was the last of the gentleman presidents, and a true gentleman.”
Carnes also had fond memories of Bush’s wife, former first lady Barbara Bush. Carnes was invited to a luncheon in Washington thrown by Barbara Bush, and she had the opportunity to speak with her candidly as the first lady posed for photos.
“It was in a private area, and she greeted you like a long lost family member,” she said. “She was everybody’s grandma, and just a sweetheart. She made you feel comfortable. We chit-chatted about our kids.”
Jim Carnes said he and Frankie were fortunate to meet the Bushes on a number of occasions.
He remembered the time he and Frankie had the opportunity to meet Bush at the home of billionaire businessman Les Wexner in New Albany, N.Y. Another time, he was one of six Ohio leaders asked to meet Bush on the tarmac when he flew in for a visit to Columbus as president.
“He was such a wonderful, gracious person,” Jim Carnes said of Bush.
He believes history will be kind to the 41st president.
“A lot was accomplished during his administration, and he worked across the aisle,” Jim Carnes said. “When he was president, there was civility. They could shake hands and accomplish something, instead of all the bitterness we have now.”
Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said he met Bush while working as an attorney in Washington, D.C., in 2001. His law firm threw an inaugural party for Bush’s son, the newly elected President George W. Bush. The new president’s parents attended the party.
“I told him my prior job had been for (Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.), and that I had a lot of respect for him as president,” Elliott said. “I told him I knew Sen. Byrd had a lot of respect for him, too.”
Elliott said Byrd “was much harder on” the Democrat President Bill Clinton than he was on the Republican Bushes or Ronald Reagan — who was closer to his age.
“They were of the old style of politics, and ‘the greatest generation,'” he said. “There was a modesty in President (George H.W.) Bush Sen. Byrd saw lacking in subsequent generations.”
Bush and Byrd worked together to achieve a deficit reduction bill, that was likely a factor in Bush’s not being re-elected in 1992, according to Elliott.
“It was only 25 years ago, but it seems like a different country now,” he said. “Politics has grown much less civil.”
U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., said he met Bush twice while serving as the chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party. The second meeting came at the end of McKinley’s tenure as chairman, and Bush had an aide present him with a gift.
“He gave me a set of presidential cuff links I still wear,” McKinley said. “I cherish them. The presidential seal is on them. I have cherished them because they came from his hand to mine.”
McKinley also believes history will be kind to Bush.
“In terms of the modern era, he comes across as being very family-oriented. Barbara made sure of that,” McKinley said. “He was very dignified.”
Bush was soundly criticized after the Gulf War when he didn’t direct American soldiers to go in and take Baghdad. Some say the action might have averted current conflicts in the Middle East.
“He knew he had the power and military might to do it, but it wasn’t the agreement he signed,” McKinley said. “You have to be respectful of someone like that. His word meant something.
“Yes, we have had to deal with problems since then, but he had to stick to it,” he said.
Senior U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp of Wheeling was appointed to the federal bench by Bush in July 1990.
“The one memory I have about that process is that President Bush called me to advise me he was going to nominate me,” Stamp said. “That was a singular honor in itself. I understand he did that with all judges he nominated, and I very pleased he called me.
“I have been told other presidents didn’t do that,” Stamp said. “They relied on the process of letter, or someone else to inform the candidate.”
Stamp termed Bush “very gracious” in telling him he would nominate him to be a judge in the federal court.
“He had taken the time to call me in the middle of a budget controversy he busy with that at the time,” Stamp said. “I remember thinking it was extraordinary he did that at that time.
“I’m a bit biased, but I think he will go down as an excellent president,” he said. “His record on foreign policy was very much improved by what he did in Desert Storm. He had much less approval after Desert Storm, and that was because of the economy. He will go down as an outstanding president.”