Former President George H.W. Bush passed away on Friday night at age 94 and will be remembered for his love of America and baseball.
Sandy Hooper, USA TODAY
The last time I spoke with President George H.W. Bush was, appropriately enough, at a sporting event. I was covering the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, and he and I happened to be standing inside the ropes, behind one of the greens.
Bush was surrounded by a security detail, including the Secret Service. After a match played through, I walked over to the officers, told them I knew the president and asked if I could say hello.
At that moment, Bush looked over, smiled and beckoned me to come toward him. He threw his arm around me and we immediately began talking about our favorite subject: my late father.
Bush, who died on Friday, knew me not because I’m a sports columnist, but because he knew my dad, who was the vice chairman of his Ohio presidential campaign in 1988. My father knew Bush well, welcoming him to our hometown of Toledo and throughout the state of Ohio on various national campaigns from the late 1970s through 1992.
This was the first time I had seen President Bush since my father died in 2003. But we had corresponded in 2006, after the publication of my father-daughter memoir, Best Seat in the House.
I sent Bush a copy of the book. He sent back a beautiful, typewritten note, telling me that my story of learning to love sports through my father was at the top of his stack of summer books. It’s hard to imagine a greater honor than that, for both me and my dad.
Now, at Valhalla, Bush was remembering my father’s love of cigars and how hard he worked on Bush’s behalf on all his national campaigns.
“He was quite a fellow,” Bush told me.
The same could be said of Bush, of course. It’s hard to imagine anyone else of such lofty standing being as kind, thoughtful and genuine as he was.
Within minutes, we said our goodbyes and he headed to his golf cart to move to another spot on the course. I was struck by what happened next. Before he could move, a couple of the golfers from the U.S. team, hustling to the next tee, detoured to the cart to thank Bush for being there. Their European rivals came by, too, to shake Bush’s hand.
They clearly were in a hurry, but not in so much of a rush that they couldn’t take a moment to say hello to the former president who had come out to watch them play the game he loved.
I also spoke with both the president and Mrs. Bush at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., at the 1999 Ryder Cup. It was no wonder that Bush (often with a son or two in tow, if not his wife) always seemed to appear at the Ryder Cup. Not only did he adore golf, and famously play it in less-than-two-hour rounds, the amateur competition known as the Walker Cup is named after his maternal grandfather.
It will be strange for a Ryder Cup to be held without George H.W. Bush. The two just seemed to go together. Maybe it was the sportsmanship. The goodwill. The gentlemanly nature.
Whatever it was, I’ll be thinking of him. He was, after all, quite a fellow.