From a first-floor window in the family’s summer home on Walker’s Point, Barbara Bush spied me standing bemused, shivering and overcoat-less.
Suddenly, she was in front of me — short, smiling, motherly.
“I thought you might need this. Go ahead, put this on,” she said, holding out her husband’s flight jacket with “Vice President Bush” scrawled in white over the left breast.
She didn’t know me from Adam. Yet she went out of her way to be thoughtful. I was surprised — the wife of the vice president did that for me? — but also moved.
How people associated with politics show benevolence is revealing.
Most political spouses would not, in my experience, go out of their way in the manner she did, though they would manage to find easier ways to be nice.
Don’t get me wrong. Mrs. Bush was as tough and smart as she was beneficent. It wasn’t pleasant to be the object of her quiet wrath.
At some point on the campaign trail, for example, the vice president and Mrs. Bush hosted a reception for the traveling press. Arm in arm, they spent a few moments with each reporter, smiling, calling them by name, exchanging pleasantries. Except for me. They — particularly Mrs. Bush, her eyes a deep icy blue — gave me a shoulder so cold my heart about froze. The reason: I had just written several stories critical of candidate Bush’s policy proposals.
His beloved wife was most at home, however, in being the perfect model of modern Brahman lady who saw something worthwhile in everyone and had a knack for putting you at ease.
On another traveling-press visit to Walker’s Point, for example, this time with my wife and 8-year-old son, Mrs. Bush informed us that when we heard her say, “Millie, get off the couch,” she was addressing the family dog, not my wife.
That was during the 1988 presidential campaign, which George and Barbara won.
That was 30 years ago. I still have the photo of me, wearing her husband’s jacket on that cold day at Walker’s Point. I can still see her smiling and saying, “Here, you may need this.”
⦁ Ralph Z. Hallow, the chief political correspondent of commentary, served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation fellow in urban journalism at Northwestern University and resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar.