The world has mourned President George H.W. Bush as a steely World War II hero, a savvy statesman of almost unparalleled record, and a spiritual, loving family man. From the state service to the overnight Houston visitation and train procession, the ceremonies and tributes have been emotionally charged, solemn, and reverent.
But President Bush, says his longtime friend, was always about the next thing.
“One of his favorite phrases was, ‘on to the next event,’” says Peter Roussel, who served as Bush’s press secretary and under Reagan and Bush 43’s administrations. Roussel, a friend of Bush’s for 50 years, says the former president might be embarrassed by this week’s overwhelming response. “I never knew anyone with a greater deal of humility,” Roussel says. “He and Barbara were non-big-shot big shots. Were they big shots? Yes. Did they act like it? No.”
Roussel says what’s often missed in coverage of the stately and wizened President Bush is how much fun he was to be around. “He was a jokester and a prankster,” Roussel recalls, noting a time Bush and his security detail pretended to be asleep on a plane when Roussel boarded late.
In keeping with President Bush’s spirit of fun and moving on, here are five ways to pay homage to America’s 41st president and globally beloved Houstonian.
President Bush famously marked his 75th, 80th, 85th, and 90th birthdays by skydiving. Houstonians who want to mark their milestone birthdays — or experience the thrill of leaping out of a perfectly safe plane — can take the plunge with places such as Skydive Spaceland-Houston or Skydive Houston.
For those who are bit dive-shy, iFLY Houston offers the all the adrenaline and non of the open sky, with indoor dives.
Bush was a noted baseball player at Yale and an accomplished athlete. “He didn’t just play golf — he played speed golf,” says Nelson Murray, a lifelong friend of the Bush family. “He had this friendly rating system — he’d rate you based on your skill. It was all in good fun and very supportive. He’d say, ‘Murray, you’re number three on the Bush-Murray family tennis rankings.”
A lively way to pay tribute to the late president would be jog in his beloved Memorial Park or a taking in a Houston Astros or Houston Texans game.
“He was a real fan — you could tell it was a part of his life, both in and out of the White House,” says Reid Ryan, president of the Astros. Ryan says his famous father, Nolan Ryan, had a “special relationship,” wit 41, whose regular presence behind home plate was motivating. “It’s special for a team and organization when a former president is a fan of your club. It puts and extra pep in your step, you’re on your best behavior, and you’re doing all the little things to be successful.” Ryan says Bush loved the big and little things when it came to the Astros. “He’d visit with the manager, go down to the bench and dugout — as a former ball player himself, he loved the chatter and banter of the game. Barbara wanted to keep score, he wanted to have a hot dog.”
Houston Texans president Jamey Rootes notes that Bush “wasn’t just a fan, he was a super-fan. He and J.J. [Watt] had a great connection. There was a consistency of values, like putting others before self. And he and [Texans owner Bob] Mr. McNair were dear friends — they were generous and they were gentlemen. I like to sat that they were birds of a feather.”
Rootes says one of his fondest moments was when President Bush was recognized during Super Bowl 51 in Houston. “We like to think of him as ours, but to feel the reverence for him in that Super Bowl crowd at NRG Stadium was really special. He wasn’t just a champion of Houston sports — he was a champion of Houston.”
The president believed in service to country and to others and encouraged others to do the same. Service-minded Houstonians can donate their time or resources to worthy charities that call to mind Bush’s passions and missions, such as Points of Light. In memory of Bush’s beloved daughter, Robin, Houstonians can donate to Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Family Alliance. Bush would no doubt smile at any contribution to the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. And the military hero would welcome support of organizations such as Helping a Hero.
Aristocratic and distinguished, the former president let his playful side show through his famously fancy footwear. Houstonians recently honored Bush when they donned their frivolous stockings on National Sock Day. Stylish H-Towners can honor the president by slipping on or gifting these George W. Bush socks or these socks, which salute the 41st commander-in-chief.
Steak and staycation
Bush was an unabashed charmer and romantic; his 70-year marriage to Barbara is an iconic American love story. As a wink and nod to the former first couple, Houstonians can schedule a romantic date weekend, with a start at Bush favorite The Palm for a sumptuous steak dinner.
After dinner, head to The Houstonian for a restful staycation. (The Bushes called The Houstonian home for years.) Enjoy a game of tennis (Bush was an ace), take a dip in the pool, stroll the lavish grounds, and hop in the plush beds and nibble on Barbara’s beloved chocolate chip cookies.