Happy birthday, Mr. President

On the occasion of former President George H.W. Bush’s 91st birthday, I feel moved to tell you my George Bush Story.

It’s not all that grand, but it kind of speaks to the issue of: What does one say to someone who’s done so much in his life?

The former president came to Amarillo in 2007 to speak at a symposium about leadership. The event occurred at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. As editor of the editorial page for the Amarillo Globe-News, I received an invitation to “have lunch with President Bush.” Yes, I know that sounds high-falutin’. I use that phrase to make a little fun of myself, as I was one of about 200 or so “special guests” who broke bread with the 41st president.

He said a few words, thanked all the right people and we all concluded our lunch.

Then came another special moment. I was among some in the lunch crowd who got invited to a picture-taking session with president.

So, the president left the room to prepare for what’s known in the newspaper business as the classic “grip-and-grin” session. We followed him out of the room and then stood in line.

Here’s where a bit of trauma set in: trying to decide what to say to someone who’s done what this man has done over the course of lengthy and incredibly varied public service career.

Think about it. He was a naval aviator during World War II, and was shot down on a combat mission in the Pacific; he served in Congress for two terms, representing the Houston area; he served as chairman of the Republican National Committee; U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; head of the CIA; special envoy to China; vice president of the United States; then was elected president of the United States.

Not a bad dossier, correct. Indeed, I’ve said for years that George H.W. Bush arguably was the most qualified man ever to serve as president and commander in chief.

So, what does one way when you shake this man’s hand?

I settled on nothing at all original, witty or memorable.

I merely said, “Mr. President, thank you so much for the service you gave to this country.”

The more interesting element of that 45-second encounter, though, was his response. He bowed his head as he thanked me for the expression of gratitude. He asked me for my name and what I did for a living.

I truly hope he understood I was sincere in saying what I said.

Then it was over. I received a framed picture of “George Bush and me” a couple of weeks later. It’s on my bedroom dresser. I’m proud of it.

Happy birthday, Mr. President.