OPINION: Remembering George H.W. And Barbara Bush’s White House Parties

Joanne Butler | Former Staffer, House Ways and Means Committee

Although I never met the late President Bush, I worked in his administration, at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as a trade specialist.

While USTR’s building is not on the White House grounds, staff were treated as White House staffers. This meant invitations to the Fourth of July picnic on the White House lawn and the annual Christmas party.

Christmas was special at George and Barbara’s White House. Staff received not only a card but a frameable copy of the Christmas drawing of the White House. Mine is framed and hangs in the main floor of my house.

Then came the Christmas staff party. With so many staff and political appointees visiting, the procedure was to hand out timed entrance tickets. But once inside the White House, one could roam about the East Wing practically at will — nobody was there to push you along to the exit.

There were no velvet ropes to keep us hoi polloi from touching anything. Quite the contrary (and this must have been Barbara’s idea); we were truly welcomed into the Bushes’ home.

Granted, there was Secret Service personnel everywhere. They were easy to spot; they were the only ones not having fun!

In fact, when I heard of President Bush’s passing, my memory of Christmas 1989 in the Red Room flashed in my mind. Astonishingly, we were allowed to sit on the furniture! I recall a young mom positioning her baby in the corner of an antique sofa, and exhorting her husband to snap photos.

Meanwhile, the Secret Service agent at the window to the right of the sofa glared at the mother and child. No doubt he was worried about a possible leaky Pamper and damage to the sofa’s fabric.

Barbara Bush, a mother several times over, must have known the risks to the furniture. Fortunately, she put a higher priority to giving staff an enjoyable time.

As for the president, I have a story by an unnamed source, who had worked in the real Situation Room (not Wolf Blitzer’s fake one on CNN). As the president was once in charge of the CIA, he liked to stop by to chat with people in the Sit Room. “What’s going on?” he’d ask casually.

Although H.W. Bush had left the CIA years earlier, one might say he liked to keep a hand in the business — in this case, the intelligence business.

There was also a rumor that early during the Clinton administration, H.W. Bush’s bust had been moved away from the CIA’s main entrance hall to an obscure corner in the library.

Then, in 1995, the Clinton administration invited the former President to give a pep talk to CIA employees, as morale was low. The bust mysteriously moved from the library to a prominent spot by the main elevators. (After walking over the CIA shield, as seen in countless films, one faces the main elevators — and the Bush bust.)

Plus, this was no mere grip-and-grin visit. President Bush spent two hours at the agency meeting with senior staff. He was working, even though he didn’t have to.

That says so much about George H.W. Bush, the man.

May he rest in peace.

Joanne Butler was an international trade specialist at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and at the Foreign Agricultural Service at USDA (GHW Bush administration). In the GWB administration, she was the senior adviser/speechwriter for an assistant secretary at the Department of Labor.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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