Here's what struck me after four days of watching world leaders and U.S. presidents, local officials and celebrities, wealthy business people attending services at St. Martin's, and beer drinkers at an ice house in Spring: Everybody had almost identical praise of President George H.W. Bush.
What an elegant, graceful family man our 41st president was.
My Thursday, December 6 started by winding through a maze of security and checking media credentials at Second Baptist Church. I stood in the media pack while invited guests entered the parking lot to board busses for St. Martin's Episcopal Church.
I got comments from President Bush's dentist, Chuck Hoopingarner. He said President Bush was a wonderful, giving person who always posed for pictures and signed autographs for his dental hygienists and staff. The president would let the staff take photos of his crazy socks. He'd wear a Santa hat during the holidays. I asked if the president was brave or a scaredy-cat in a dentist's chair. It's one thing to fly bombing missions in World War II. It's something entirely different to stare down a dentist playing airplane hangar with a novocaine needle.
The dentist smiled and said that's personal information.
One of the drills when you interview somebody is, you have to get their name, have them spell it, and ask their occupation and hometown. I know Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale and I know how to spell his name and where he lives. I asked, what should I put down for your occupation? He said "sales."
Former Channel 2 anchor and current media producer Linda Lorelle told me about the time President Bush and Barbara Bush attended a sneak screening of the movie Red Tails, about the Tuskegee Airmen (the African-American military pilots who fought in World War II). Lorelle said the president wanted to see the film because he recognized the contribution of the Tuskegee Airman. Lorelle added that by the end of the movie, tears were streaming down Barbara Bush's cheeks.
Former Houston Mayor Bill White said, after he was elected, the president and Barbara Bush invited White and his wife over for lunch. President Bush said, if there's anything I can ever do to help, just ask. White said, all the while, he was trying to think how Houston could honor President Bush.
On TV, I watched leaders from the U.S. Congress and foreign governments praise Bush for being a standup, trustworthy, straight shooter. They talked about his modesty, how he refused to go to Germany after the Berlin Wall came down. He said no, this was time for Germans to celebrate. He would not tap dance on The Wall.
His funeral service at St. Martin's was as deservingly dignified as the life he led. After the service, I drove to Spring, where his casket would be transferred to Union Pacific engine 4141 for the last leg of his final journey to College Station. The ceremony ins Spring was closed to the public, so I searched for a good viewing spot.
Small town, big praise
I found it at the Track Shack Express, an ice house on W. Hardy Road, right across the street from the railroad tracks. Word spread on social media that this was the place to wait and watch the train carrying the former president. By the time the train rolled by at 1:18 pm, several thousand admirers packed both sides of the tracks and the Hardy Toll Road overpass. It was rainy and chilly and muddy, but no one dared give up their spot. Business was booming inside the ice house — and it wasn't even Wednesday Steak Night, Bikers Welcome.
I spoke to several onlookers. One woman told me that her husband was a Marine vet, one son is in the Navy, and another son in Marine boot camp. She described Bush, the last president who served in the military, as our last "noble man" in the White House who put his life on the line to defend our country.
Another woman, a school nurse smoking a cigarette, said she came to watch the train because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to honor an "amazing man."
One after another, the tributes I heard outside an ice house in Spring, were the same I heard from the National Cathedral in Washington, same as St. Martin's Church.
A woman in Spring may have said it best. "He was like my father, like my grandfather. He loved his family, and all he wanted to was keep our country safe."