Editorial: Have Half

This week, our nation laid to rest the 41st president of the United States. The State Funeral celebrated the majesty of our nation, the office of the presidency and George H.W. Bush. For many in our community, it was the chance to say goodbye to a great man we knew well, who grew up here in our town and who met his future wife at a holiday dance at the Round Hill Club 77 years ago. It was a time to say goodbye to one of our own.

The service on Thursday was full of dignity and wonder, as it was supposed to be. State Funerals are administered by the Military District of Washington and are governed by a protocol steeped in tradition and rich in history. Watching it was remarkable as we witnessed the honest role of the military in honoring a loved former Commander and Chief.

It was in the words spoken, however, that we truly saw the light of who George H.W. Bush was. From his earliest days growing up in town and going to Greenwich Country Day School until his final days, he lived his life by example. When he spoke of his desire for a “kinder, gentler” nation when he was running for president in 1987, he was actually naming a philosophy he had been raised to believe was right, had been educated to know how to achieve, and had been practicing in his life for decades.

To meet President Bush, even briefly, was to meet someone who was totally focused on you. He wanted to know who you were and would inevitably find some nugget within the conversation, no matter how brief, that he could thank you for. As his son said, he looked for the best in everyone and he usually found it. There was pretention in his manner.

The qualities that define President Bush, the person, are those of what some would argue are from a bygone era. They are almost otherworldly in today’s hectic, turbo-charged environment. They seem simple: listen to others, put others first, do not boast. Hardly qualities you would expect from a politician, especially in one running for president of the United States and, yet, there it was, in him.

Early on in his political career, George H.W. Bush was asked was he “too nice” to be president? He responded, “ I equate toughness with moral fiber, with character, with principle, with demonstrated leadership in tough jobs when you emerge not bullying somebody, but with the respect of the people you led. That’s toughness. That’s fiber. That’s character.”

Character is the mental and moral quality distinctive to an individual. President Bush’s character is what set him apart throughout his entire life. As a young child he was affectionately known as “Have Half” because of his penchant of offering half to whomever he was with of whatever he was eating. His character is what made him, in his son’s eyes, “near perfect.” And would not we all seek that sentiment from our own children?

Integrity, leadership, courage and “with love in his heart for the citizens of our country” are words used to accurately describe President Bush’s lifetime commitment to public service. Those who worked for him have demonstrated a loyalty that seems to be missing in others today. The reason? President Bush was loyal to those who worked for him. It was the loyalty given that was the loyalty received. He is described by those with whom he worked closely as unlike any other person with whom they have worked or may ever again.

For our community, there is a tangible sense of loss because the Bush family has long been interwoven in the fabric of our town. There were, and are still, personal relationships among many with the family.  That does not change now. In fact, the need to nurture those relationships, keeping alive the memory of the relationships, becomes even more important as we attempt to follow his example and live as an example to those who watch… those who will lead next.

With the passing of George H.W. Bush, let us “fulfill the promise of our friend’s life.” Let us live by example. Let us live by the character and qualities that too many believe belong to a bygone age. Let us practice today and tomorrow, “Have Half.”