Presidents Don’t Fall From The Sky
Becoming President of the United States is hard.
It requires commitment, service, sacrifice, the support of your party, wealthy backers, and the ability to persuade a large number of American voters that your vision for the country is the sound course.
Presidents don’t just “fall from the sky.”
Unless you live in College Station.
On the occasions of both his 75th and 80th birthdays, former president George Bush parachuted onto the grounds of the George Bush Library Center on the campus of Texas A&M.
As a 20-year-old Naval aviator during World War II, Bush had been forced to jump from his torpedo bomber off the coast of Japan when his plane was struck by enemy anti-aircraft fire. Bush survived the experience. His two crew mates on the mission were killed.
In 1997, making good on a promise that he would someday exit an aircraft of his own volition, Bush made a successful tandem jump over Yuma, Arizona.
His third jump on June 9, 1999, was a solo effort onto the grounds of the Bush Library, famously proving as the ex-president said later, “Old guys can still do stuff.”
When asked if the leap would be her husband’s last, former First Lady Barbara Bush offered an emphatic, “You bet!”
She thought about that response for a moment and then added, “He’ll jump again when he’s 80.”
And, he did, again landing on the grounds of his library in College Station, strapped in again as a tandem jumper.
But only because weather conditions were, according to the president, “a little iffy” that day.
Remarkably, Bush celebrated both his 85th and 90th birthdays with tandem dives over Kennebunkport, Maine.
The George Bush Presidential Library and Conference Center not only commemorates the life and accomplishments of America’s 41st chief executive–housing nearly 50 million documents related to the president’s life and accomplishments–but also provides a hub for a myriad of programs and activities which make living in College Station a special experience. Library-hosted events are as diverse as storytelling sessions for children, appearances by internationally-known dignitaries, and frequent series and symposiums on topics of national and international significance.
It’s a great way to stay in tune with the times.
The Bush Library in College Station is one of 13 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. A dozen additional venues honoring past presidents operate outside the jurisdiction of the NARA.
The first presidential library was dedicated in 1941 to Franklin Roosevelt while he was still serving in office. The most recent library opened was the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.
Texas A&M University began its pursuit of landing the Bush library shortly after he was sworn in as president in early 1989. One of Bush’s friends, Texas oilman Michel Halbouty, A&M Class of 1930, is said to have first approached the president about locating his library in College Station.
As a show of early support for the library, the City of College Station renamed Jersey Street on the south side of campus as “George Bush Drive.”
That was September of 1989.
The announcement that the Bush library would be located on the campus of Texas A&M came in 1991.
In August of 2009, the College Station city council affirmed by unanimous proclamation that Bush Drive was named in honor of President George Bush and not his son, the nation’s 43rd president, George W. Bush.
What apparently prompted the move was the younger Bush’s commencement address to Texas A&M graduates nearly nine months earlier. Plans were already in the works to locate the Bush 43 library on the campus of Southern Methodist University. College Station city officials wanted to ensure the etymology of its own “George Bush Drive” was clearly spelled out.
On the occasion of the dedication of the George Bush Presidential Library Center on November 6, 1997, Presidents Ford, Carter and Clinton attended, as did former first ladies Lady Bird Johnson and Nancy Reagan.
The Rev. Billy Graham offered the invocation. Seven years later, Graham would be honored as a recipient of the George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service which “recognizes an individual’s or group’s dedication to public service at the local, state, national or international levels,” and is presented by the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation.
Other recipients of the honor include Mikhail Gorbachev, Ted Kennedy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Texas A&M president Robert Gates, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser of Qatar, and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
While President Bush was born and raised in New England, the second son of U.S. Senator Prescott Bush moved to West Texas after graduating from Yale University in 1948. As a new Texan, Bush went to work in the oil business. He ultimately relocated his company, Zapata Off-Shore, and settled his family in Houston, where he became a U.S. Congressman in 1966.
Although he would campaign in College Station during an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1972, Bush’s first official visit to the campus of Texas A&M came in 1984 when he gave the spring commencement address to graduates as vice president of the United States.
He returned to the College Station campus in the spring of 1989, giving a major foreign policy announcement regarding containment of the Soviet Union. Two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed, ending the Cold War.
Remnants of the Berlin Wall, a focal point of Cold War hostilities between East and West, is now located at the Bush Library Center.
The former president also gave commencement addresses at Texas A&M in 1999 and 2006.
Following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the Bush Library Center played host to perhaps its biggest event to date.
In fact, it was an event so big–attended in person by more than 13,000 people and witnessed by more than six million television and online viewers worldwide–that the occasion, called “Deep from the Heart: The One America Appeal,” was held at Texas A&M’s Reed Arena.
The event, benefitting Harvey victims, featured musical performances by Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Lee Greenwood, Lady Gaga, The Gatlins and Alabama. Also on hand were all five living former presidents: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush, George W Bush, and Barak Obama.
More than $2.6 million were raised for hurricane relief, not only in the aftermath of Harvey, but also storms which caused serious damage and loss of life in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
As much as George Bush has meant to College Station and Texas A&M, his wife of more than 70 years, Barbara, was also a dear friend to the local area.
She died on April 17, 2018, and was laid to rest on the grounds of the Bush Library Center on Sunday, April 22.
Funeral services were held in Houston that day. A vehicular processional then made its way to College Station and traversed through the city with thousands lining the streets to pay tribute.
In a story which appeared in the April 23 edition of The Eagle newspaper in Bryan and College Station, reporter Caitlin Clark captured the spirt of the Bush family, the Bush Library Center, and the woman who joined with her husband in serving the nation with respect and dignity.
A candlelight vigil organized by Lela Akiashvili, a student at Texas A&M's Bush School of Government and Public Service, was held outside the library Tuesday night. Akiashvili, a 28-year old Fulbright Scholar who will graduate in a month with a master's of public service and administration, said she was lucky to have had the chance to meet Mrs. Bush on campus.
Akiashvili was reading outside one day in March when she spotted her. Bush was taking a walk around the pond behind the library. Akiashvili knew this was her chance.
She congratulated Bush on International Women's Day -- it was March 8 -- and they chatted about Akiashvili's home country of Georgia.
"Then I thanked her for giving me this opportunity, because if not for her husband and herself, I would not be a Fulbright Scholar, and none of my life goals and dreams would be fulfilled," Akiashvili said. "She got emotional when she heard that, and said, 'Stop, or I'll cry.' "
They chatted a bit more and took a selfie before parting ways. A week later, Akiashvili received a letter from Bush, thanking her for the conversation and reassurance about the importance of kindness.
To learn more about the George Bush Library Center, visit the www.bush41.org