`A Glimpse of George Bush the Man': Museum Reveals the Person Behind the 41st President

By Bedard, Paul | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 5, 1997 | Go to article overview

`A Glimpse of George Bush the Man': Museum Reveals the Person Behind the 41st President


Bedard, Paul, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Former President George Bush loved his mother and rarely crossed her, but only in retirement has he been able to abide by Dorothy Walker Bush's golden rule against bragging.

Whether her son was a star sportsman at Andover and Yale or the president who won the Gulf war, Mrs. Bush would scold him for "showboating" and even called during the 1988 presidential campaign to complain: "You're talking about yourself too much."

But now, as Mr. Bush closes out his public career, he's passing the chore to the $40 million Smithsonian-like George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which opens here tomorrow to memorialize his life. The new library, on the campus of Texas A&M University, will rewrite the way presidential museums are presented.

"Here we have a man who spent most of his life in public service, and we have something to represent every stage of his life," says library and museum director David E. Alsobrook. "It is primarily just a glimpse of George Bush the man - the character and life of the man most people have never seen," he says.

Using vintage childhood videos, love letters, rare government documents and pictures, replicas of his old Studebaker sedan and his Navy TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, and personal mementos displayed like a traveling show at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History, the museum mixes Mr. Bush's international outlook and private life to paint a unique picture of America forward from his birth on June 12, 1924.

Like its subject's days in the White House, the museum requires no road map and hides no agenda. Instead, it records Mr. Bush's obsession with world affairs, sports and his family and touches only lightly on domestic policy and Mr. Bush's relations with the media.

It's also meant to give school children a quick history of his era, says James Cicconi, vice president of the Bush Presidential Library Foundation and his former deputy chief of staff.

"What we're trying to do there is engage the schoolchildren in the history of his era. This was a fascinating period of years where you saw the last spasms and the end of the Cold War."

The museum and library - which opens to researchers in January - is set on 90 acres adjacent to the new $43 million George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, and the Presidential Conference Center and International Center, which hosts conferences and houses a weekend apartment for the former first family.

Work on the library began even before Mr. Bush ran unsuccessfully for re-election in 1992. Mr. Alsobrook started gathering papers then.

Curator Patricia Burchfield, formerly of the presidential library for President Lyndon Baines Johnson 100 miles away in Austin, Texas, recalls rushing to Camp David on Mr. Bush's final weekend in office to collect personal items such as Frisbees, books and specially packaged candies, which are displayed in the Bush museum's re-creation of his office at the Catoctin Mountain retreat in Maryland.

Remembering those final days and the haste in stuffing millions of White House papers into an Air Force C-5A for the flight to Texas and a temporary home in an abandoned bowling alley, Mr. Alsobrook says, "It's not very pleasant to go into someone's office and tell them we're here to take their stuff."

But now, nearly five years later, the trauma of those days is forgotten and some 1,000 Bush "alumni" are arriving here for a weeklong party to celebrate their one term in office. The Bushes will host a barbecue at the library today, and the dedication follows tomorrow when President Clinton, former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and former first lady Nancy Reagan arrive for the ceremonies.

"I feel at home here," says Mr. Bush. "My vision: Make it the best."

The Bushes have spent dozens of hours helping to lay out the museum but most importantly have turned over thousands of personal items, including love letters, the glove the former president used when he was a first baseman on the Yale varsity team and rare movie images of Mr. …

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