As her husband, George H. W. Bush, campaigned in 1988 to replace President Ronald Reagan, “Second Lady,” Barbara Bush, came to Springfield.
Mrs. Bush’s passion was promoting literacy. She visited public schools often, unlike the current White House occupant and his Secretary of Education.
As the wife of the vice president, and later as First Lady, Mrs. Bush was very well-respected. She also was feared. As a 1992 Vanity Fair profile stated,
People who have worked with the Bushes use words and phrases like “difficult” … “tough as nails” … “demanding” … “autocratic.” A 1988-campaign staffer recalls that “when she frowned it had the capacity to send shudders through a lot of people.”
In the presence of school children though, her soft side came through.
My memory is a little fuzzy 30 years later, but I assume her plan when she visited Springfield in mid-1988 was to promote literacy, visit some schools, get some nice pictures in the paper.
Somehow, that plan went slightly awry. I was the news director for a local radio station. As a matter of course, whenever newsmakers came to town, as they often did in election years, I would request a one-on-one interview. Being a lowly radio guy, I didn’t often get the big ones.
As I recall, Mrs. Bush’s visit was being coordinated by the governor’s office. Again, the details are blurred, but someone made a mistake.
My request was approved.
My belief that it was a mistake is based on Mrs. Bush’s deportment when I met her, and her attendant, in a small office at the Statehouse.
She appeared to be pissed at someone, though, thankfully, not at me.
She sat for the interview and answered all my questions. She was not unpleasant. She was direct, not chatty. There were no laughs.
Three decades later, I have no recollection of the details of what we discussed. It’s safe to assume no big news was made. In fact, I might not have remembered the conversation at all if it was not for one odd thing about it.
It’s common for prominent people making public appearances to have attendants, people who make sure meetings with the media go well and don’t get weird. It wasn’t unusual that the person who accompanied Mrs. Bush sat in a chair just to my right as I interviewed her. What was unusual was who that person was.
An arm’s-length from me, for the duration of the conversation, was Gov. James Thompson.
The governor, mid-way though the last of his four terms, said nothing during the interview which, I imagine, lasted 20 or 30 minutes.
He just sat there.
Afterward I tried to figure out why. Theory: It was his punishment for having someone in his office approve my interview request.
I know this: There was only on person in that room happy about my interview and it wasn’t either of them.
Anyway, the interview concluded without incident. We went our separate ways.
I guess the only other thing worth mentioning is that, in November of 1988, George H. W. Bush won Illinois’ electoral votes with 50.7 percent of the vote, topping Michael Dukakis by 1.8 percentage points. Barbara Bush’s time in Illinois could only have contributed to that success.
Barbara Bush was always an asset to her husband’s political career. She didn’t suffer fools.
I’m grateful that, one day at the Illinois Statehouse, she made an exception.
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