By Jean Becker
Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 1, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
A heartfelt portrait of President George H.W. Bush—and his post-presidential life—by the confidante who knew him best.
A few hours before he died, I was sitting at President Bush’s bedside, holding his hand and talking about nothing in particular. He was not in a coma, but his eyes were closed, and he seemed far away. So I chatted about this and that and kept him company. People had been coming and going, but at this moment in time, we were alone.
Thanks to a small tickle in my throat, I coughed ever so slightly. His eyes flew open, and he squeezed my hand and asked, “Are you okay?”
Those would be the last words George Herbert Walker Bush would say to me. I can think of no better ending to a friendship that had begun twenty-six years earlier when, after he lost his reelection bid, I followed President and Mrs. Bush back to Houston to help her write her memoirs.
The question “Are you okay?” was just so him. He was dying. But as always, he was thinking of the other guy.
I squeezed his hand back and assured him I was indeed okay. And yes, I do think, on a deeper level, the question was bigger than about that cough.
And I really was okay. He was ready. And if he was ready, I was ready.
His was, after all, a life well lived.
Much of it you know. He was shot down in the Pacific during World War II but was rescued by an American submarine; married his sweetheart, Barbara Pierce; graduated Phi Beta Kappa in two and a half years from Yale, where he was captain of the baseball team; moved to Texas to enter the oil business; went into public service, serving as a congressman, an ambassador to the United Nations, an emissary to China, the director of the CIA, and the vice president and president of the United States. When he left office on January 20, 1993, he moved back to Houston with Mrs. Bush to retire, with every intention of staying out of the public eye.
That was not to be.
This book will tell the story of how—after leaving the White House—President Bush rebuilt his life, found a way to continue making a difference, and, by the time he died in November 2018, was revered by his country and by the world.
His post-presidency journey was filled with determination, courage, generosity, love, hope, humor, fun, and always big ideas.
From his partnership with President Bill Clinton to raise money for disaster relief to his very public parachute jumps, the forty-first president never quit living life to the fullest, even after Parkinson’s disease put him in a wheelchair. In between his more public adventures, he devoted himself to a wide variety of causes, including cancer, volunteerism, leadership, patriotism, and to what was his life’s mantra: faith, family, and friends.
And he lived what he preached: “Any definition of a successful life must include serving others.”
And then, of course, two of his sons would become governors of major states, and one the forty-third president of the United States.
How lucky was I to be along for the ride for all twenty-six years, the last twenty-five as his chief of staff? As the daughter of a Missouri farmer who never finished high school; as a graduate of a country high school with a class of only fifty-seven; as a news groupie (brought about by the whole Watergate affair) who wanted nothing more than to be a reporter when she grew up; and who, by the way, grew up a Democrat—you could say it was an unexpected ride. Somewhere along the way my life took a sharp turn. I never once looked back.
Working for George H. W. Bush taught me so many things: to live with joy, think big, be humble, make a difference.
I loved him but was often fearful when he came into my office and said, “Jean, I have an idea.” They were sometimes little ideas—“Let’s go get pizza for lunch.”
But often they were BIG: “I would like to go back to Chichijima, where I was shot down. I need to close that chapter. Let’s go do that soon.”
One thing was for sure: It was never boring.
I am excited to share with you some of my favorite stories about George Bush’s life after the White House. Some will seem like fairy tales, but others range from broken toilet seats to broken hearts.
The stories are based on all the emails, notes, essays, occasional journal entries, and work files I kept over the years. Sometimes I had to rely just on my memory, which as we all know can be tricky. (President Bush once complained that as much as he loved his World War II squadron mates, he hated going to their reunions. “They all remember that we won the war single-handedly.”)
So, when possible, I asked the other players in these episodes—George Clooney comes to mind—if my memory was their memory, just to keep me honest.
Occasionally, I have reconstructed a quote from President Bush, but only if I felt positive that it was almost exactly what he said. Many of the conversations seem like they took place yesterday.
While I did everything possible to make this a fact-based book, I should note that the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum—which contains all of his records and files and some of mine—was closed because of COVID-19 while I was writing this book. (Thankfully, I brought some key files I needed home with me when I closed the Office of George Bush in March 2019.) I assure you I didn’t make anything up, but you might notice that sometimes I am a bit vague. For example, instead of telling you how many campaign events the Bushes did in 2000 for their son George W., I just tell you it was a lot.
I also cannot claim the book is objective. I was and am the biggest fan of George and Barbara Bush. So if you are expecting deep, dark secrets or tabloid gossip, put the book down now. (For the record, I have read both of their diaries. There were no deep, dark secrets.)
But I promise it will be a fun ride.
Since I have shared the last words George Bush said to me, I am fairly sure I remember the first words. It was 1987. He was vice president of the United States and running for president. I was a reporter for USA Today, a junior member of the paper’s election team. I was assigned to travel with the vice president on a trip to South Dakota and had been asking the press staff all day for a short interview. Finally, late at night on the long flight back to Washington, they said I could have five minutes.
I was scared to death. He was by far the most important person I had interviewed, unless you count a phone interview with Billy Joel. I made my way to the front of Air Force Two, introduced myself, and sat across from him with my notebook in hand. He gave me an exhausted—and slightly exasperated—look. “What do you got?” he asked.
And we were off and running…
Glossary of Names
To help you keep track of some of the recurring characters in the book, here is a list of the people (and some places and things) that pop up more than a few times. The biographical information is as of March 1, 2021.
Bush, George W.: Oldest son of George and Barbara Bush, he was elected president of the United States in November 2000 and reelected in 2004. He served as governor of Texas from 1994 until 2000, when he stepped down to become president. Before entering politics, he was a businessman and co–managing partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Now an author and artist, and an active participant at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, he is also an avid mountain biker and golfer. He and his wife, former First Lady Laura Bush, live in Dallas. They have two daughters and three grandchildren:
• Jenna Bush Hager and her husband, Henry, live in New York City with their two daughters and one son.
• Barbara Pierce Bush lives in New York City with her husband, Craig Coyne.
Bush, John Ellis (“Jeb”): Second son of George and Barbara Bush, he was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. He is a member of the board of directors of the George & Barbara Bush Foundation and chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees. Active in business and education reform and the author of multiple books, Jeb and his wife, Columba, live in Miami. They have three children and five grandchildren:
• George P. Bush and his wife, Amanda, live in Austin, Texas, with their two sons.
• Noelle Bush lives in Orlando, Florida.
• Jeb Bush Jr. and his wife, Sandra, live in Miami with their three daughters.
Bush, Neil: The third son of George and Barbara Bush, he is engaged in international business development with a focus on Asia. He is active in promoting Bush family charitable legacies, serving as chairman of the board of Points of Light, the George Bush School of Government and Public Service Advisory Board, and the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations. He is founder and chairman, with his wife, Maria, of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, and a member of the George & Barbara Bush Foundation board of directors. He and Maria live in Houston and are the parents of six and grandparents of two:
• Lauren Bush Lauren and her husband, David, live in New York City with their two sons.
• Pierce Bush and his wife, Sarahbeth, live in Houston.
• Ashley Bush and her husband, Julian LeFevre, live in Los Angeles.
• Lizzie Andrews lives in New York City.
• Pace Andrews lives in Houston.
• Alexander Andrews lives in Houston.
Bush, Marvin: The fourth son of George and Barbara Bush, Marvin is managing partner of Winston Partners, an investment firm in Arlington, Virginia. He serves on the boards of the George & Barbara Bush Foundation and the Virginia Athletics Foundation. He is a past board member of the George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation and the University of Virginia Alumni Association. He also is a former trustee of the College Foundation of UVA. He and his wife, Margaret, live in Arlington, Virginia, and are the parents of a daughter and a son.
• Marshall Bush lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
• Walker Bush and his wife, Lora, live in Fort Worth, Texas.
Koch, Dorothy (“Doro”) Bush: Youngest child of George and Barbara Bush, she is the cofounder of BB&R Wellness Consulting; the honorary chairman and a board member of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy; and a member of the board of the George & Barbara Bush Foundation. She is the author of My Father, My President. She and her husband, Bobby, live in Bethesda, Maryland, and have four children and one grandchild:
• Sam LeBlond and his wife, Lee, live in Washington, DC.
• Ellie LeBlond Sosa and her husband, Nick, live in McLean, Virginia, with their daughter.
• Robert Koch lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is engaged to Kitty Montesi.
• Gigi Koch lives in Washington, DC.
Baker, James A., III: He served as secretary of state from 1989 to 1992, and also was Ronald Reagan’s White House chief of staff and secretary of the Treasury. He is the only known person to run five presidential campaigns for three different people. The author of numerous books and chairman of various boards and committees, he is an active participant in the James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy at Rice University. He and his wife, Susan, live in Houston. Between them, they have eight children and eighteen grandchildren.
Card, Andrew: He served as White House chief of staff under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006. He was deputy White House chief of staff under the first President Bush before being named secretary of transportation in 1992. He got his start in politics serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1975 to 1983. His post–White House career has included serving as acting dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University before becoming president of Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire, resigning in 2016. He and his wife, Kathleene, live in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, and have three children and six grandchildren.
Gates, Robert M.: He served as the twenty-second secretary of defense from 2006 to 2011 and is the only secretary of defense in U.S. history to be asked to remain in that office by a newly elected president. Gates worked for eight presidents and has been heard commenting that President George H. W. and First Lady Barbara Bush’s White House was the most fun. Before becoming secretary of defense in 2006, Gates was the president of Texas A&M University; before that he served as interim dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M from 1999 to 2001; and before that he was director of Central Intelligence. The author of numerous books, he and his wife, Becky, live in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, and have two children.
Heminway, Betsy: Betsy and her late husband, Spike, were among the Bushes’ closest and oldest friends. They lived in Kennebunkport, Maine, in the summer and Hobe Sound, Florida, in the winter. Betsy still does. Betsy was active in President Bush’s campaigns, serving in Connecticut as co-chair of ’84 Reagan-Bush, and ’88 and ’92 Bush-Quayle. She has one daughter and two grandchildren.
Major, John: Prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1990 to 1997, Sir John was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2005. Previously he had served as foreign secretary and chancellor of the exchequer under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He was a member of Parliament until he retired in 2001. He and his wife, Dame Norma, live in London and have two children.
McLane, Drayton, Jr.: A businessman and philanthropist, he worked his way up in the family’s wholesale grocery business from the night shift to president and CEO, developing the company into a multibillion-dollar corporation. Following the McLane Company’s merger with Walmart, Inc., in 1990, he became vice-chairman of Walmart while maintaining his position as president and CEO of the McLane Company. He later resigned from Walmart in order to devote more time to the McLane Group, a parent company consisting of family-owned companies operating throughout the world, which until November 2011 included the Houston Astros. He and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Temple, Texas, and have two sons and five grandsons.
Meacham, Jon: A presidential historian, author, and professor at Vanderbilt University, Jon wrote Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. In 2009, he won the Pulitzer Prize for American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. He and his wife, Keith, live in Nashville, Tennessee, with their three children.
Mulroney, Brian: Elected in 1984 and reelected in 1988, Mulroney was Canada’s eighteenth prime minister. From the Canada-U.S. Acid Rain Treaty, to NAFTA, to the first Gulf War, to the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany, there were very few issues of importance upon which he and President Bush did not work closely. He and his wife, Mila, live in Montreal and have four children and fifteen grandchildren.
Scowcroft, Brent (Lt. Gen., USAF, Ret., Deceased): He served as national security adviser to Presidents George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford—the only person to have held this position twice. He was a 1947 graduate of West Point and received his master’s and doctorate from Columbia University in 1953 and 1967, respectively. His twenty-seven-year Air Force service included postings at West Point; Belgrade, Yugoslavia; U.S. Air Force Academy; Office of the Secretary of Defense; and Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has said that President George H. W. Bush was “one of my dearest friends and the most prepared person ever for the presidency.” He is survived by his daughter, Karen, and granddaughter, Meghan.
Sidey, Hugh: Hugh covered every president from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton—first for Life magazine and then for Time magazine—becoming a respected observer and chronicler of the presidency. He and President Bush became pen pals in 1993, exchanging letters about current events and their life philosophies, including Hugh’s love for his native Iowa. He died in 2005. He is survived by his wife, Anne, a son, three daughters, and nine grandchildren.
Simpson, Alan K.: He served from 1979 to 1997 as a United States senator from Wyoming. He was elected the assistant majority leader in 1984 and served in that capacity for ten years. He wrote Right in the Old Gazoo: A Lifetime of Scrapping with the Press, which chronicles his personal experiences and views of the Fourth Estate. When asked, “Have you lived in Wyoming all your life?” he replied, “Not yet!” He and his wife, Ann, live in Cody, Wyoming, and have three children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Updegrove, Mark: Mark, a presidential historian and author, is president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation. His book, The Last Republicans, about the two Presidents Bush, was released in 2017. Mark lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Amy, and their four children.
Personal Aides to President Bush
Appleby, Jim: As a high schooler, he began working as a “summer lad”—President Bush’s job description—for the Bushes in Kennebunkport in 2001. He eventually became President Bush’s personal aide, serving from 2006 to 2012. Today Jim works for Shell in external relations. He and his wife, Lauri, live in Houston with their two children.
Dannenhauer, Michael: Michael first worked for Vice President Bush in 1985 at the age of seventeen, volunteering in the file room. He returned to Washington every summer to work in various vice presidential and White House offices, becoming President Bush’s last White House personal aide, moving to Texas with the Bushes in 1993. He continued as his personal aide for five years, then was his chief of staff for two, followed by a year at the George Bush Library Foundation. Michael returned to Washington to work in the second Bush administration, where he still resides today working as a realtor.
Frechette, Tom: Tom began working for President Bush while in high school as a “summer lad” and then as an intern, then served as President Bush’s aide from 2000 to 2006. He currently is a managing director at Avenue Capital and a member of the George & Barbara Bush Foundation Advisory Council. He lives in New York City with his wife, Jennifer, and their two daughters.
Lapointe, Coleman: After working at Walker’s Point as a “summer lad,” Coleman became the personal aide to President Bush from 2012 to 2015. He joined Governor Jeb Bush on the campaign trail during his 2016 presidential bid. Between 2017 and 2020, Coleman worked at the Pentagon, where he served as the director of travel operations for the secretary and undersecretary of defense. He and his wife, Sarah, now happily reside in Maine where Coleman works for General Dynamics at the Bath Iron Works.
Peressutti, Gian-Carlo: Aide to President Bush from 1996 to 2000, he left in 2001 to join the White House staff of George W. Bush as associate director of the Office of Public Liaison. He currently is director of public affairs at IFM Investors and serves on the advisory board of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service. He lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, with his wife, Amanda (whom he met on the job in Kennebunkport), and two daughters.
Sisley, Evan: Evan served as President Bush’s personal aide and senior medic starting in 2015, supervising the medical team who cared for President and Mrs. Bush until their deaths in 2018. Evan began working for President Bush as a medic in 2013 after being recruited to the job from a Marine Corps Reserve company in Houston, where he served as a Navy corpsman. During his time in the Navy, Evan was deployed to Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, and Israel. A paramedic for seven years, Evan worked on ambulances in Kentucky, Maine, and Texas. Prior to serving in the military, Evan was a photojournalist who covered national politics, including the presidency of George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008. He is currently working on prerequisite courses in anticipation of applying to medical school, where he hopes to further his medical career and become an emergency physician. He and his husband, Ian Carrico, live in Washington, DC.
Office of George Bush
Lamoreaux, Melinda: Melinda began working as a volunteer for both President Bush and Mrs. Bush in 1994. In 2000, she joined the staff, sharing job responsibilities at the front desk with Mary Sage and taking on special projects. During the funeral, Melinda was in charge of administrative logistics in the Office of George Bush, including heading the phone bank of twenty volunteers. Today Melinda works for the George & Barbara Bush Foundation as the liaison with the Bush Legacy Groups. She and her husband, Scott, live in Houston and have one adult daughter, Leslie.
Lisenby, Nancy: Nancy started volunteering in 1997 and began working as a part-time receptionist the following year. In 2000, she became my assistant, and among her many jobs was to listen to me vent and help me decipher my handwriting. She was my No. 2 on funeral planning and execution. She and her husband, John, live in Houston. They have three children and ten grandchildren.
McGrath, Jim: Jim served as President Bush’s post–White House press secretary and speechwriter and was in charge of all media operations during the funeral. He started at the White House in 1991 in the Office of Presidential Messages and Correspondence, and later served as vice president of the George & Barbara Bush Foundation. He and his wife, Paulina, live in Houston with their three children.
Pears, Laura: After working for the 1990 G-7 Economic Summit and the 1992 Republican National Convention—both held in Houston—Laura joined President Bush’s staff in 1993 when he returned to Houston. Initially a volunteer, she joined the full-time staff in 1995, working on special events and later serving as director of scheduling. She was in charge of the Bush family’s schedule and logistics during the week of the funeral. She lives in Houston with her husband, Dan.
Poepsel, Linda: Linda worked for President Bush for thirty-seven years, having joined his vice presidential staff in 1981. In 1989, she went to the White House to work with Chief of Staff John Sununu and Deputy Chief of Staff Andy Card. She left the White House in early 1992 to serve as executive assistant to Andy, the newly appointed secretary of the Department of Transportation. She followed the Bushes to Houston in 1993, where she served as President Bush’s director of correspondence. She was in charge of invitations and RSVPs for the funeral. She lives in Houston with her husband, Jim, and their three dogs—including Mrs. Bush’s two dogs, Bibi and Mini-Me.
Sage, Mary: A full-time volunteer on President Bush’s 1992 campaign, Mary joined the staff first as a volunteer, then became the part-time receptionist and the office administrator, overseeing technology issues and serving as the liaison with the federal government oversight agency. She oversaw the ticketing system for the funeral and assisted with RSVPs.
Volunteers: You will see many references in the book to the office volunteers. When the office closed, they were, in alphabetical order: Carolyn Anglum, Melza Barr, Danna Burkett, Barbara Comee, Tina McClellan, Caroline Pierce, Meredith Powers, Mickey Schwab, Janis Sullivan, Lorelei Sullivan, and Margaret Voelkel. Longtime volunteers Annyce Duffin and Susan Mowry had retired. President Bush’s great friend Jack Steel was the dean of the volunteers until his death in 1996. Some of the other deceased A-listers: Marjorie Arsht, Betty Baker, Ellie Bering, Dot Burghard, Beverly Chadd, Nancy Crouch, Ida Fahey, Mary Louise Knowlton, Alicia Lee, Willie McCullough, Kerry McGee, Barbara Patton, and Marianne Sawyer.
My Siblings (from oldest to youngest)
Aulbur, Millie: Millie is a teacher turned lawyer. For the twenty-three years prior to her retirement, she was the director of citizenship education for the Missouri Bar, which was the perfect blend of lawyer and teacher. She now does volunteer law work for the Samaritan Center. She is married to Mark, and they have two children and four grandchildren. They live in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Heppermann, JoAnn: JoAnn practiced law for several years in Louisville, Kentucky, where she lives with her husband, Ken. They own, race, and syndicate thoroughbred racehorses. JoAnn is active in Rotary and currently serves as district governor. JoAnn and Ken have two sons and three grandchildren.
Becker, Edward: He practiced law for nearly ten years before entering seminary to become a Catholic priest. Ordained just before his fortieth birthday, he is the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Habra, California. His sisters call him Eddie; his parishioners call him Father Ed; President and Mrs. Bush called him Father Eddie and were very supportive of his second calling as a Catholic priest.
Places, Things, and Pets
All the Best: Instead of writing an autobiography, President Bush published in 1998 a book of letters written during his lifetime: All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings. The original idea was to do a coffee-table book with some of his more memorable and historically important letters with photos and commentary. But when I started my research to find those letters, I realized he was such a prolific letter writer, we could tell his entire life story, starting from when he was eighteen years old. The book was reissued with a new chapter of letters in 2013.
The Dogs: Millie, Ranger, Sadie, Bibi, Mini-Me, Sully.
Fidelity: The name of President Bush’s powerboat, which he kept in Kennebunkport, Maine. Fidelity 1, the boat he had when he was vice president and president, is now on display at the George Bush Library. The older President Bush got, the faster his boats got. Fidelity 1 was a cigarette boat with two 280-horsepower engines. His last boat, Fidelity 5, was a Fountain boat with three 300-horsepower engines.
The George & Barbara Bush Foundation:
- On Sale
- Jun 1, 2021
- Page Count
- 320 pages