“Courage” is the word that came to mind with the news that Bush family matriarch Barbara Bush had died Tuesday at the age of 92. That, after she had chosen home “comfort care” over a hospital or hospice stay as her congestive heart failure neared its natural end.
But 18 years ago, in the hall of a Philadelphia hotel, it was the words “gracious deportment,” and “downright funny” that came to mind.
It was nearly two decades ago, in the summer of 2000, that I met Mrs. Bush during the Republican National Convention. I was there in my role as the director of editorial pages at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. She was in her role as the mother of presumptive Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush and, of course, the wife of former President George H.W. Bush.
And it was quite the assemblage on that hotel floor. At one end of hall, directly across from my room, was David Eisenhower, grandson of Dwight Eisenhower. Camp David, the presidential retreat, was named for him. His wife, Julie, was one of President Nixon’s daughters.
At the other end of the hall was John Street, then in the first year of his first term as mayor of the City of Brotherly Love. In between, initially unbeknownst to me, was one of the president-to-be’s family members.
Early one morning, freshly showered and wrapped in only a towel, I put on a pot of coffee and then peered through the door’s peephole to make sure the coast was clear to retrieve a nice stack of free newspapers on the other side.
The coast appeared to be clear. And cracking the door open with the safety lock still on, that clear-coast assessment appeared to be confirmed. Closing the door and taking the safety lock off, I quickly reopened it to retrieve that treasure trove of morning reading.
But just as I bent down to pick up the morning papers, there was that sense of somebody else being in the hallway. And there was.
Two or three doors down the hallway to the right, Barbara Bush was about to knock on a door room. With that signature bemused face, she turned my way.
“Oh, sorry,” I said sheepishly, startled and struggling to keep the towel in place.
“Don’t worry,” she said, with that hearty, motherly laugh, as she was about to enter the room. “I’ve seen worse than that!”
Later that day, deep in the belly of what then was called the First Union Center, Mrs. Bush and I were about to pass one another. “Do I look away?” I thought to myself. “Do I keep my head down?”
At the last second, I decided to deal with my continued embarrassment with dignity. As she approached, and I was about to nod a “Hello,” she beat me to the punch — with a wink and a smile. A nod and a chuckle and we each continued on our way.
Wrote Charles Churchill in 1761’s “The Rosciad”:
“What’s a fine person, or a beauteous face, unless deportment gives them decent grace?”
That “deportment” of “decent grace” in life, and that “courage” as a life well lived approached its nadir, was Barbara Bush. We all would do well to aspire to her example.
Rest in peace, Mrs. Bush.
Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (firstname.lastname@example.org).