EXCLUSIVE 1ST PERSON STORY – My Evening With Former First Lady Laura Bush

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EXCLUSIVE FIRST PERSON STORY! For a number of years I’ve been the MC/Moderator at Butler University’s Celebration of Diversity Lecture Series.  This week, the Series featured former First Lady Laura Bush.  My role at the event was to ask questions of Mrs. Bush submitted in advance by Butler students, faculty and staff. The ground rules for Mrs. Bush’s visit, set By her office was that she would do no media interviews.  However, I was the only media person who got to observe Mrs. Bush behind the scenes during her visit to Butler’s famed Clowes Hall Auditorium as well as as ask her questions on the Clowes stage.  When I was introduced to Mrs. Bush I told her what my role would be on the program.  I knew that Butler had sent my photo and bio in advance to Mrs. Bush’s staff.  When I said my name, she smiled and acknowledged my presence saying “I don’t mind if you ad lib a little”.  Backstage before her speech, Mrs. Bush took questions from a group of twelve Butler students seated in a semicircle around her.  She told them about her life in the White House, her passion for education and her work with the Bush Institute.  Those themes would come out in her thirty minute address to a nearly packed Clowes Hall audience. WP_20140224_001During our Q&A session, I asked Mrs. Bush about the work of the Bush Institute, which is the vehicle that she and former President George W. Bush are using to do a number of initiatives to improve the lives of people in this county and abroad.  I asked Mrs. Bush about an announced President Bush made a few days earlier that the Bush Institute would be working hard to get employers to get serious about hiring veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.  It’s shameful, I told Mrs. Bush about the unemployment rate of our veterans.  She agreed sand said that this new Bush Institute Initiative for veterans is something she and her husband feel very strongly and deeply about.  Another subject they both deeply hold is the Bush Institute’s work to fight disease and HIV/AIDS in Africa.  It’s an initiative Mr. Bush began as President and it continues after he left the White.  I told Mrs. Bush and the Clowes Audience that the Bush’s work in Africa isn’t much noticed by media in this country.  She talked passionately about their work in Africa and how much it means to the people of those nations and to them.  As a grandfather, I asked her about being a new grandmother and her granddaughter Mila (who was born to daughter Jenna and her husband Henry Hager).  As any new grandmother she talked glowingly about granddaughter Mila and how much her husband dotes on her.  But I used the question to also get Mrs. Bush’s views on the growing number of grandparents who are primary parents of their grand children today. Throughout the Q&A, Laura Bush’s down to Earth manner, her humor, her positive personality showed through. In a question about advice from former First Ladies, Mrs. Bush told a story of something Hillary Clinton told her. Mrs. Clinton  said, “You know, when you get an opportunity to do something, don’t think ‘Well I’m too busy to do that,'” . That led to a story of Mrs. Clinton getting an invitation from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Mrs. Clinton begged off saying she was too busy.  Mrs. Onassis died shortly afterwards. Mrs. Bush said the advice from Hillary Clinton was “to not think we’re too busy to miss an opportunity like that.”  She had the audience in stitches talking about her husband’s new penchant for painting. And she revealed that the George W. Bush Library will be displaying a collection of Mr. Bush’s paintings this Spring.  Mrs. Bush thought she was telling something that hadn’t been made publicly, but I told her I’d learned about it backstage on my smartphone and that the word was already out. The final question was “What did she like best about the White House”? To laughter Mrs. Bush said “The Chef”. Then she talked nostalgically about the staff at the White House, from florists, to carpenters to electricians to the butlers.  Then she said that when she left Indianapolis she was going to Washington “to attend the funeral of a butler who had served her (and President Bush) and went back to the Reagan years”. There was a poignancy in Mrs. Bush’s voice as she talked about the service this White House butler and others had given.  At that moment the compassion that is Laura Welch Bush came through for nearly 2,000 in Clowes Hall to hear. I appreciated the opportunity to share the moment with Laura Bush.  During the evening, VIP’s weren’t allowed to sneak a photo with her. But at the end of the evening before she left the Butler campus, Laura Bush graciously gave the OK for the photo you see at the top of this post. She is a remarkable, classy lady. I’m glad I had the privileged of sharing time with her.

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