Writing speeches for President Bush 41

Sometimes, I have a hard time believing that I was a presidential speechwriter for former president George Herbert Walker Bush, affectionately known as Bush 41.  The other speechwriters were nationally recognized journalists, while I was a relatively unknown university academic administrator with a Ph.D. in communication theory, rhetoric, and public address.  While several of my speeches were in Vital Speeches of the Day and I was relatively well known in academic circles, I was a newcomer in the political world.

Yet, through amazing circumstances, I had the incomparable privilege of writing for the last World War II president, Bush 41, and working daily with such outstanding writers as Tony Snow, Andrew Ferguson, and Dan McGroarty.

Numerous people have written that landing a job in a presidential administration is more often than not a matter of luck rather than some "grand plan."  Most talk about being "at the right place at the right time."   For us as mid-career professionals without big-money backers or the right political connections, it was more a matter of God working miracles.  Coming from an academic background, my husband and I arrived in D.C. in the summer of 1990 to work in the Bush 41 administration.  I landed a job at the Department of Health and Human Services as a speechwriter for Secretary Louis Sullivan, thus jumping into the deep end of domestic issues.  Dr. Sullivan utilized his bully pulpit to the fullest extent possible, often speaking two or three times a day all around the U.S.  He kept seven speechwriters busy on a wide variety of pertinent domestic topics.  My husband, Gil, ended up in ASPE, the HHS secretary's internal think-tank, where he still researches and writes white papers on a wide variety of domestic issues.

For five months (October 1991 to March 1992), I wrote speeches and drafted opinion-editorials for Secretary Sullivan, especially on those matters important to family well-being.  Then, in March, out of the blue, I received a phone call from the White House inquiring about whether I'd be interested in writing for Bush 41.  I was told that after Desert Storm, there was a push to strengthen the president's writing staff, and somebody had recommended me.

There is no way to convey the awe-inspiring experience of actually working in the White House with a pass that enables you to go anywhere in the complex, including the private library on the top floor of the OEOB that can get any publication a speechwriter might need or want.  The sense of history and significance of working as a presidential speechwriter are like nothing else I have ever done.

With Bush 41, it was also a personal privilege.  It is well known that Bush 41 was the consummate gentleman, whose personal notes are treasured by international and national leaders as well as ordinary citizens who somehow earned one of Mr. Bush's handwritten gems.

A small incident reveals the underlying courtesy and civility pervasive at the Bush White House –­­ indeed, in government service in general – at that time.  I was about to exit from the back door of the West Wing to go over to the OEOB for the first time.  As I approached the door, a long line of military men were coming through.  I waited as the first several men proceeded through the door.  Then Vice President Richard Cheney came to the entrance.  He looked up; saw me; stepped back; and said, "After you, Ma'am."  He held the door for me, and the rest of the line of men stepped aside as I left the building.  That type of courtesy was common, following the example of President Bush.

One biographer referred to President Bush 41 as the man with a "golden résumé."  He certainly had the credentials and experience for the presidency and conducted himself with decency and dignity.  The passing of his generation is no small matter, because an era of American history is also passing.  The frailty of their old age gives only slight hints of who the people of that generation, known as the "Greatest Generation," were and what they did.

I'm one of those who knew that generation, because my father was a WWII Marine who served in the South Pacific.  My mother remained home for two years, not knowing if he would return.  Patriotism was instilled in that generation of young people.  In my father's village, three to four boys from his neighborhood volunteered for military service together and everyone knew someone who did not return or others who returned broken in body or spirit.  Now men like my dad and his brothers are gone; indeed, few of that generation are left.  It is fitting to remember them and to honor their service.

After President Bush 41, the baton was passed to other generations of leaders coming from a variety of different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.  The passing of President Bush 41 is not just the passing of a significant American leader who earned the respect of Americans across the political spectrum; it is the passing of a generation who shared experiences and values.  It is the end of an era of shared history.  As we mourn the loss of President Bush 41, we also mourn the passing of an era.

Sometimes, I have a hard time believing that I was a presidential speechwriter for former president George Herbert Walker Bush, affectionately known as Bush 41.  The other speechwriters were nationally recognized journalists, while I was a relatively unknown university academic administrator with a Ph.D. in communication theory, rhetoric, and public address.  While several of my speeches were in Vital Speeches of the Day and I was relatively well known in academic circles, I was a newcomer in the political world.

Yet, through amazing circumstances, I had the incomparable privilege of writing for the last World War II president, Bush 41, and working daily with such outstanding writers as Tony Snow, Andrew Ferguson, and Dan McGroarty.

Numerous people have written that landing a job in a presidential administration is more often than not a matter of luck rather than some "grand plan."  Most talk about being "at the right place at the right time."   For us as mid-career professionals without big-money backers or the right political connections, it was more a matter of God working miracles.  Coming from an academic background, my husband and I arrived in D.C. in the summer of 1990 to work in the Bush 41 administration.  I landed a job at the Department of Health and Human Services as a speechwriter for Secretary Louis Sullivan, thus jumping into the deep end of domestic issues.  Dr. Sullivan utilized his bully pulpit to the fullest extent possible, often speaking two or three times a day all around the U.S.  He kept seven speechwriters busy on a wide variety of pertinent domestic topics.  My husband, Gil, ended up in ASPE, the HHS secretary's internal think-tank, where he still researches and writes white papers on a wide variety of domestic issues.

For five months (October 1991 to March 1992), I wrote speeches and drafted opinion-editorials for Secretary Sullivan, especially on those matters important to family well-being.  Then, in March, out of the blue, I received a phone call from the White House inquiring about whether I'd be interested in writing for Bush 41.  I was told that after Desert Storm, there was a push to strengthen the president's writing staff, and somebody had recommended me.

There is no way to convey the awe-inspiring experience of actually working in the White House with a pass that enables you to go anywhere in the complex, including the private library on the top floor of the OEOB that can get any publication a speechwriter might need or want.  The sense of history and significance of working as a presidential speechwriter are like nothing else I have ever done.

With Bush 41, it was also a personal privilege.  It is well known that Bush 41 was the consummate gentleman, whose personal notes are treasured by international and national leaders as well as ordinary citizens who somehow earned one of Mr. Bush's handwritten gems.

A small incident reveals the underlying courtesy and civility pervasive at the Bush White House –­­ indeed, in government service in general – at that time.  I was about to exit from the back door of the West Wing to go over to the OEOB for the first time.  As I approached the door, a long line of military men were coming through.  I waited as the first several men proceeded through the door.  Then Vice President Richard Cheney came to the entrance.  He looked up; saw me; stepped back; and said, "After you, Ma'am."  He held the door for me, and the rest of the line of men stepped aside as I left the building.  That type of courtesy was common, following the example of President Bush.

One biographer referred to President Bush 41 as the man with a "golden résumé."  He certainly had the credentials and experience for the presidency and conducted himself with decency and dignity.  The passing of his generation is no small matter, because an era of American history is also passing.  The frailty of their old age gives only slight hints of who the people of that generation, known as the "Greatest Generation," were and what they did.

I'm one of those who knew that generation, because my father was a WWII Marine who served in the South Pacific.  My mother remained home for two years, not knowing if he would return.  Patriotism was instilled in that generation of young people.  In my father's village, three to four boys from his neighborhood volunteered for military service together and everyone knew someone who did not return or others who returned broken in body or spirit.  Now men like my dad and his brothers are gone; indeed, few of that generation are left.  It is fitting to remember them and to honor their service.

After President Bush 41, the baton was passed to other generations of leaders coming from a variety of different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.  The passing of President Bush 41 is not just the passing of a significant American leader who earned the respect of Americans across the political spectrum; it is the passing of a generation who shared experiences and values.  It is the end of an era of shared history.  As we mourn the loss of President Bush 41, we also mourn the passing of an era.