Do You Remember When Barbara Bush Visited Lowell?
Do you remember in 2001 when Barbara and George H.W. Bush came to Lowell, to address the crowd of more than 2,000 in the 3rd-annual Middlesex Community College Celebrity Forum speaker series. During the hour-long, sold out forum the Bush’s delivered a strong message about family values in America, and showed great pride in their son George W. Bush, who was the sitting president at the time.
Here is the original article by Julie Mehegan which ran in the Sun on Thursday, June 7, 2001. Visit Lowellsun.com/RememberWhen to download pages.
A night for presidential pride First parents call for values, service in visit to Mill City
By JULIE MEHEGAN, Sun Staff
LOWELL - Former President George Bush and his wife. Barbara, last night revived the traditional themes they promoted during their four years in the White House, urging a return to strong family values in America and swelling with parental pride when discussing their son, the sitting president. The couple spoke for an hour to a sold-out crowd of more than 2,000 at Lowell Memorial Auditorium as featured guests of the Middlesex Community College Celebrity Forum.
Content, they say. in living a very private life, the couple nonetheless has an unquestionably public role as the parents of President George W. Bush. Last night, the “presidents father,” as he said he is often referred to now, said he would be willing to advise his son if asked, “just as I would with any president who asked me.” “People ask what it’s like to be the father of the president,” he told the audience. “It’s like watching a Little League game and seeing your kid hit a triple with the bases loaded, or having your kid come home with a couple of A’s and B’s when you thought they might flunk out of the place.” “It’s exactly how you’d feel about your kids,” he added, describing the couple’s pride in seeing their son sworn in as the 43rd president.
“It’s no different for me. Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative. It’s no different for me.” The former president reminisced about his years in the White House and renewed the call for Americans to serve their families and their communities. His remarks were preceded by those of his wife of 56 years, who regaled the crowd for about 25 minutes with anecdotes about family and motherhood, spiced with good-natured ribbing of her husband.
“The way to make a stronger, better America is to build stronger families, first in our own homes and then in our communities,” she said. She went on to borrow a phrase from her son’s inaugural address, urging the audience to be “citizens, not spectators.” “I know I’m not objective, but I think they are wonderful words of inspiration,” she said. While their prepared remarks steered clear of present-day politics, they both offered observations about the recent upheaval in the Senate when asked by a member of the audience.
“It isn’t going to be easy,” said the former president, asked how his son would push his agenda on education, energy, Social Security, and other matters since the Republican Party is now outnumbered in the Senate. “But I was president for four years and (Republicans) never had control of the House or the Senate.” Both said their son has a knack for reaching “across the aisle” to work with Democrats, evidenced by his successes as governor of Texas.
“If the opposition party simply wants to obstruct, I think the country won’t like that and that’s to his advantage,” said the former president. “It’s not like he’s lost total control of the agenda.”
Mrs. Bush called Vermont Sen. James Jeffords’ decision to bolt the Republican Party and become an Independent an “amazing step,” but said “it’s a free country. He did what he felt he should do.”
President Bush admitted the “family values” message of his presidential administration has since become a political cliche, but said he still relies on values learned from his father, who served in the U.S. Senate, and his mother, who always urged him to help others, to give the “other guy” credit, and to be fair. “There can be no definition of a successful life that doesn’t include public service,” he said. He recalled the day in 1093 when he left office after one term, and told newly elected President Bill Clinton that he would not inject himself into any public debate. “I think I kept to that pretty well,” he said. In recent months, he has kept himself out of the debate because he knows his comments are once again subject to intense scrutiny. ”(If I offered an opinion), the press would run to the president and say ‘Here’s what your nutty father says. What do you have to say about it?’ ” Bush said, drawing laughter.
Bush, who will turn 77 next week, said he is “more interested in fishing with my granddads than the earned-income tax credit or these kinds of issues.”
“I was there (the presidency) at a very interesting time, and I hope it will be said that we did our best, that we had faith, that we showed respect for the office of the presidency itself, and that we helped, with a wonderful team, to make the world a little bit safer,” he said Mrs. Bush, dressed in a bright pink suit and her trademark double strand of pearls, told the audience she still labors to improve family literacy, a cause she first began to champion 21 years ago. The Barbara Bush Family Literacy Foundation has distributed $9 million in grants to 285 literacy programs in 44 states, including several in Massachusetts. “George and I are ... trying to give back a little of the much that we’ve been given. We’re trying very hard to be ‘points of light,’ ” said Mrs. Bush, in reference to her husband’s presidential pledge to honor organizations and individuals working on behalf of their communities.
Audience members, who gave the Bushes several standing ovations during the hourlong event, were delighted with the “down-to-earth” couple, as one Lowell resident described them. “I can’t tell you how much I have missed having these people in public, in the public eye,” said Antonia Merritt of Lowell.
“It’s great to have them back here, and with President Bush in the White House. It’s great.” “They’re wonderful people,” said state Rep. Carol eleven, a Republican from Chelmsford, who recalled a trip to the couple’s Kennebunkport, Maine, summer home during the campaign in 1988. “There are no airs about them.” Before the speeches, the couple attended a private reception with sponsors and benefactors at the DoubleTree Hotel. The event was sponsored by the Celebrity Forum, a privately run arm of MCC that focuses on fundraising and promoting the college.
Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke at the forum last year, and Walter Cronkite addressed the inaugural forum in 1999. “In planning tonight’s event we learned that George and Barbara Bush receive numerous requests to be featured speakers,” college President Carole Cowan said during her introduction. “I am extremely pleased and honored that the Middlesex Community College Celebrity Forum was the only engagement they accepted.”