George H. W. Bush has always been reluctant to talk about himself Ñ even as to how he had made a difference as President of the United States or in any of his other positions.
"Ask others about me,Ó he says. ÒI'm not good at talking about myself. That is part of my make up. Some people see it as 'false' modesty. But my mother taught me not to brag and she is still watching me."
So I did ask others Ñ including three other former Presidents Ñ for their reflections on the celebration of the 41st president's milestone birthday.
Gerald R. Ford, at age 91, says: "At 80, George Bush is a young man. He had numerous government positions and wide experience, and he was a fine President. He has earned the highest compliments for his strong and effective military and diplomatic leadership in the Gulf War with Iraq."
Jimmy Carter, who, on October 1st, will also be an octogenarian, says: "George Bush is a man of integrity who served America with honor. We had a good relationship while he was in the White House, and even though we did not agree on every issue, he treated me with respect. I always shared with him, or his Secretary of State James Baker, my invitations to foreign countries, and they were supportive of our work at the Carter Center."
William Jefferson Clinton recalls a wide-ranging conversation with George H.W. Bush on Air Force One to and from Jordan 5 years ago for King Hussein's funeral. "For me," Bill Clinton says, "former President Bush was a trusted advisor . . . at times the greatest counsel comes from one who has shared the pressures and unique experience of serving in the Oval Office, one who knows exactly what you're up against and who will tell you the truth. He had done that; and while I was the immediate beneficiary of his counsel, the American people and those abroad ultimately benefited most of all."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was a National Security Advisor in the Reagan-Bush White House, says: "George H.W. Bush was a great President, and has been a great public servant in so many ways. I will always count among my blessings the privilege of serving him, and of calling him friend."
Rev. Billy Graham says: "George H.W. Bush is one of my best and most loyal friends. I admire him for the way he handled his near-death experience in World War II when his plane was shot down, and for his courageous speeches on controversial issues."
Describing him as "one of America's great presidents who provided excellent leadership and brought to the office close family ties and strong religious faith," Rev Graham adds that Mr. Bush had also "put the presidency on a high level and maintained the dignity of the office that Ronald Reagan bequeathed to him."
James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank Group, was appointed Chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in March 1990, by President George H. W. Bush. "He was a pleasure to serve because he was always responsive on issues related to the arts," Mr. Wolfensohn recalls. "He and First Lady Barbara Bush were exceptionally supportive and kind to me and to my wife, Elaine, and we remain grateful to them."
Thomas R. Pickering, former under secretary of state for political affairs, says: "No American president was more respected by America's professional diplomats for his understanding of diplomacy, his knowledge of its practices and practitioners and his broad acquaintance with the key leaders of his time."
Amb. Pickering, now Senior Vice President of the Boeing Co., who was also Mr. Bush's Representative to the United Nations, adds: "At 80, he remains a man of unusual distinguished accomplishments in American foreign policy. Best known as the victor in the effort to expel the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait, he pursued a career full of achievements."
Judge William H. Webster, former Director of the FBI (1978-87) and of the CIA (1987-91), says: "I treasure George Bush's friendship. He is a straight arrow. I worked with him for ten years and I never once saw him compromise his office. His strong sense of honor defined him and inspired his team. His leadership was based on truth and trust Ñ what an example for future leaders!"
Dr. James R. Schlesinger, former Secretary of Energy and former Secretary of Defense, as well as one of Mr. Bush's predecessors at the CIA (1973), says: "He served our nation well. An astute leader in war and peace, his only failing Ñ if it can be called that Ñ was that he devoted his principal attention to the substance of problems and downplayed public relations."
U.S. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R Utah) says: "George H.W. Bush is a decent, honorable, patriotic American who has served his country throughout his life. Not only was he a great vice president under President Ronald Reagan, but he has had an enviable record of public service.
"And because I believe he was an excellent president of the U.S., I was saddened to see him lose re-election for a second term in 1992. I feel that history will treat him kindly. He has my respect as well as my admiration and affection, and I wish him the very best on his 80th birthday."
Alan K. Simpson, former U.S. Senator (R Wyo, Jan. 1979 - Jan. 1997), says: "Former President Bush is one of the most decent human beings I have ever known ø loyal, kind, caring, consistent, patient, compassionate, steady, loving . . . . and a friend to his friends."
Now a partner in the Cody, Wyoming law firm of Simpson, Kepler and Edwards, he adds: "What a rare privilege to be included in that circle. George H.W. Bush is all the man there is. Love to him on his 80th."
James W. Symington says: "George H.W. Bush preceded me at Yale by a couple of years. I didn't know him then, other than as an athletic icon (baseball). We met during his last term in the U.S. Congress, which was my first term (2nd district, Missouri, 1969-71).
"I had many friends across the aisle, and he was one of them ø easygoing, outgoing and energetic. We became friends and have remained so. His most vivid characteristics from my perspective are kindness, thoughtfulness, and genuine consideration of others. A corollary of these characteristics is his respect for others and the judgment of those he respects. These qualities, in addition to his instinct for statecraft, may have played a role in his decision to seek worldwide support for his initiative on behalf of occupied Kuwait, as well as his decision to confine our intervention to the parameters of the United Nations mandate.
"His father (Sen. Prescott Bush, R Conn.) and my father (Sen. Stuart Symington, D Missouri), again from opposite parties, were also good friends. Upon my father's death (1987), then Vice President Bush was the first to call with his condolences."
Congressman Symington, currently of counsel to the law firm of O'Connor & Hannan in Washington, D.C., adds: "Finally, I believe that the goals of a man and the way he pursues them, are conditioned by the influence of the woman he marries, and George H. W. Bush married the right woman."
Michael K. Deaver, President Reagan's Deputy Chief of Staff, and currently Vice Chairman of Edelman Worldwide, says: "It's hard, in history, to find a more loyal or substantive vice president than George Bush was to Ronald Reagan. President Reagan valued his counsel, confidence and ability to have his knowledge and experience first-hand. It was Ronald Reagan who set up the once-weekly private luncheons in the Oval Office with George Bush. And it was astounding, in a city known for backgrounding and leaks, that never once in eight years, did anything leak from their private tete-a-tete's. Ronald Reagan considered George Bush a friend and it was clear in Mr. Bush's eulogy at Ronald Reagan's funeral that the feeling was mutual."
Edwin Meese, counselor to President Reagan (1981-85) and U.S. attorney general (1985-88), says, "I really appreciated the chance to work with Vice President George Bush because he was an invaluable asset to the president and to all of us in the cabinet."
Now the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, Ed Meese remembers that Mr. Bush undertook the leadership of the Regulatory Reform Task Force and the National Narcotic Border Interdiction System, as well as the chairmanship of the Crisis Management Team and a special working group on counter-terrorism.
Fred Bush, deputy chief of staff to Vice President Bush and appointed by President George H.W. Bush as U.S. Commissioner General and Ambassador to the 1992 Universal Exposition in Seville, Spain, says: "It seems ø in some way ø like I've always worked for him. He is such an exceptionally decent man that when you think you aren't working for him, you really are."
Currently associate director for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., Fred Bush (no relation) adds: "The former president craves loyalty from friends. He is multifaceted, complex and a caring human being who has achieved so much in his 80 years."
Kathy Osborne, personal secretary to President Reagan, asks in wonderment: "Is George Bush really 80? It seems like yesterday when he was vice president and would often walk by my desk to the Oval Office to meet with the president. I can still hear the laughter from the Office when they exchanged jokes prior to concentrating on the people's business.
"Their good-natured dispositions made my job a joy. It was not just a privilege to work at the White House, but really special to be near the President and Vice President. They were a good team, who respected each other and had an excellent working relationship."
Trude B. Feldman, a veteran White House and State Department correspondent, has covered George H. W. Bush since he became a congressman from Texas in 1967.Ê She interviewed him as Ambassador to the United Nations, as Vice President, and as President. Her 3-part series Ñ "George Bush at 75" Ñ was internationally syndicated and was inserted in the Congressional Record by Senators Richard Lugar and Joseph I. Lieberman.