- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

MIDLAND, Texas With tears in his eyes, George W. Bush said farewell to Texas yesterday, vowing to his boyhood hometown that he would "take a lot of Midland and a lot of Texas with me."
He vowed to return when his presidency is over. "I know the White House does not belong to its occupant, it is ours to look after for a while. In a way, Laura and I will never quite settle in Washington because, while the honor is great, the work is temporary.
"I'm leaving Texas, but not forever. This is my home."
Clutching a white cowboy hat, his wife, Laura, clutching a small American flag, the president-elect paid homage to the virtues of the dusty town where he grew up and got his start in the oil business.
A crowd of 10,000 people nearly a tenth of the city's population roared their thanks.
"Our deepest values in life often come from our earliest years," he said. "It is here in Midland and in West Texas where I learned to respect people from different backgrounds. It is here where I learned what it means to be a good neighbor at backyard barbecues or just chatting across the fence. It is here in West Texas where I learned to trust in God."
Mr. Bush landed at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington last night, settling with family and friends at Blair House, an official guest house across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, which will be his at 12:01 p.m. Saturday.
But before he left his old hometown, Mr. Bush previewed a call to unity to be featured in his inaugural speech Saturday, saying he would work hard to put Washington's culture of division behind.
"The spirit of respect and common purpose will guide me as your president," he said, noting he learned "respectful ways" in Midland.
"I leave here really upbeat about getting some things done for the people, getting something accomplished for the people of this land by putting aside all the partisan bickering and name-calling and anger.
"You see, I've never been a cynic about public service."
The rally at a downtown intersection marked his last act in Texas as a private citizen. Mr. Bush stepped down as governor Dec. 21.
Speaking beyond the Texans in front of him, Mr. Bush told the nation: "I promise my administration will not forget the dignity and duty the White House represents to millions of Americans."
"Any conflicts that once divided us now belong to history. We're all Texans and we're all Americans. Our respect for each other is the greatest strength we have as a state."
With his wife whom he met in Midland at a barbecue at his side, the son of a president winked and waved. He marveled at how far he had traveled from this West Texas oil country where he spent his childhood, recalling the town's motto, "The Sky's the Limit."
"It seems improbable now, but in that little house on Ohio Street right down the road from here, it was hard to envision then the future of two presidents and a governor of Florida," said Mr. Bush, chuckling at his reference to his father, George Bush, and brother, Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida.
He paid tribute to his father, who met him in Washington last night, for teaching "in the way he lived that life is more than personal gain, that service to others is a noble calling."
Linda Finley of Wolfforth, Texas, was among those who waited for five hours to see Mr. Bush off to Washington. "I thought it was never going to be over, that we'd be here," she said. "I hope he takes his religion with him to Washington."
In a cold rain, Mr. Bush and his wife plus a collection of family, staff, friends and pets (three dogs, two cats) packed the Air Force Boeing 757 that the Clinton administration sent for Mr. Bush. The entourage first boarded at the airport in Waco, near the ranch that has been his Texas home since he left the governor's mansion in Austin earlier this month, for the brief flight to Midland.
It was the first time he had traveled as president-elect on a government plane. Mr. Bush was sheltered from the rain by an Air Force steward with an umbrella a new perk of the office he is about to assume.
After his arrival in the nation's capital last night, Mr. Bush planned to do a full run-through of his inaugural address, practicing with the TelePrompTer at Blair House, said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.
"He takes it very seriously," Mr. Fleischer said of the speech. "It is the singular beginning of his administration. He understands that and looks forward to it."
Midland, he said, was a perfect stepping-off place. "It's his hometown, and he thought it would be very appropriate to go to his hometown where he was taught the values that he's going to bring to the White House as an appropriate way to begin his presidency."


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