Editorial for December 6, 2018.
George H.W. Bush
Life Is An Example Of
Simple Courtesy To Us All
When he was first running for U.S. senator from Vermont in 1974, Patrick Leahy, now eminent ranking Democrat and erstwhile chairman of the Judiciary Committee, used to joke, “Washington D.C. you can’t get there from here.”
Whatever way you look at it, it’s a long way from here to the corridors of power and vice versa. But it’s boys from cities and towns much like Oneonta and Cooperstown all over the nation who get elected president of the United States more often than not.
On Presidents’ Day for a decade now, this newspaper has celebrated points of inspiration and guidance American presidents can provide to those of us back home.
• George Washington, Yorktown behind him, restlessly awaiting the Peace of Paris and the dissolution of the Continental Army, rode out to Upstate New York and the battlefields he’d heard about, but never visited, Saratoga, Oriskany, and the site of Clinton’s Dam, the start of the descent on Oquaga. Steely resolve, strength, a man
• The pioneering spirit of James Garfield’s kin. The father of the future Civil War general and president passed through Worcester en route to Ohio, falling in love with the future president’s mother, pining behind his distant plow, returning to claim her. Determination and forbearance.
• Martin van Buren, and the local hubbub caused by his local visit to Cooperstown in 1849. John Prentiss, the editor of The Freeman’s Journal, Hometown Oneonta’s sister newspaper, was on the greeting committee, meeting him at Pierstown when his carriage came down Otsego Lake’s west side. After a party in his honor at Woodside Hall – Village Historian Hugh MacDougall believes it was Lakelands – he got lost on the way back to town. Just folks.
• George W. Bush, a bit of a ne’er do well, his hard-drinking days behind him, wandering through the Hall distractedly in the late 1980s, no doubt reflecting on his impending purchase of the Texas Rangers, unknowing he’d be in the Oval Office a dozen years later. Renewal.
As interesting are their hosts here.
George Fairchild was born in Oneonta in 1886, son of a poor farmer, and rose to ownership of the Oneonta Herald, then six terms in Congress, when he hosted two presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, at his mansion at Main and Grand Avenue. He later was the first chairman of IBM.
Owen D. Young, farm boy from Van Hornesville who rose from back-breaking toil through
St. Lawrence University to General Electric’s
presidency. On the cover of Time, a frontrunner for the presidency in 1931, he invited Gov. Franklin Roosevelt to speak at the first commencement of the school that bears Young’s name. Ruefully, Young observed FDR overtaking him the following year
and winning election to the White House.
Achievement, as well as disappointment – and overcoming it – are the American story.
The impetus for these reflections, of course, is the passing of George Herbert Walker Bush on Saturday, Dec. 1, at his home in Houston. “41’s” last words were to his son, “43”: “I love you.”
Criticized, subsequent events showed a wisdom
unrecognized at the time: Foremost, pulling back U.S. troops from Baghdad in 1990 that certainly could have taken the city. After 9/11, in a second invasion, the nation learned: You take it, you own it. We’re still trying to disentangle ourselves 17 years later.
But the accolades and reflections have poured in during the past few days, even locally, are more simple. He visited here on three Hall of Fame Induction Weekends, and local people have also surfaced who met him over the years.
Foremost among their memories are small acts of courtesy, taking the time to thank Assemblyman Tony Casale for helping his presidential campaign in a typed note that contained personal touches about their meetings. A note of thanks to Ted Spencer, retired curator, who led him on a tour through the Hall of Fame. A signed menu, an autograph on hotel stationery.
Kind words. Appreciation. Even at the heights, he was characterized by simple acts of consideration.
Every president is inspiring by the ability to achieve the nation’s highest office. But George H.W. Bush offered an example of the power of courtesy. Not a bad example, and one we can – and would do well – to follow in our own lives.