On Sept. 18, 1989, George H.W. Bush visited Spokane for the state’s centennial.
His former campaign manager in Washington state, Rich Kuhling, remembers feeling a thrill when he was invited to the then-president’s hotel room, high in the downtown DoubleTree hotel.
“He was just like a regular guy,” Kuhling said, thinking back on his first moments in the room. “He was sitting in his chair, thumb looped over his belt and eating peanuts.”
The Secret Service had installed a large, bulletproof glass panel on rolling wheels, which covered the hotel room’s windows, Kuhling said. They could hear a band outside on the street, but the glass was impeding the view.
“He pushed the roller aside and looked out the window,” he said. “And in about three seconds, the Secret Service guy ran into the room and said, ‘Mr. President!’ ”
“He got caught,” Kuhling said with a laugh.
It was an instance of George H.W. Bush as an approachable, kind person who didn’t expect the red carpet to be rolled out for him, Kuhling said.
“He was a warm, personable, regular guy,” Kuhling said.
Kuhling joined politicians and political workers from around Washington and Idaho who wrote and spoke about George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, who died late Friday night at age 94. Many memories of George H.W. are intertwined with memories of Barbara Bush, who died April 17.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers served in the Washington House of Representatives while Bush was president, and Bush left office 12 years before McMorris Rodgers was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
She viewed Bush as a leader.
“After a decade of Cold War, President Bush was the face of a new era, a stronger era, with America at the helm. We were tasked with being an example to the world that true prosperity can’t be bought with wars or suppression – it comes from freedom and the opportunity to pursue,” she wrote in a statement. “This is a mindset that President Bush carried with him throughout his presidency.”
And his actions directly impacted her family, including her son, Cole, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., wrote, “From his service in World War II to his work navigating the end of the Cold War, President George HW Bush dedicated more than 70 years of his life to our country and to trying to make the world a better place. Countless Americans have been inspired by his leadership, grace, and kindness. My thoughts are with the entire Bush family.”
U.S. Senator Jim Risch, R-Idaho, worked as Idaho chairman of Bush’s presidential campaign when he and his wife, Vicki, hosted Bush and his wife, Barbara, at their home, “sharing memories that will last a lifetime,” he wrote.
“Today he and Barbara are reunited as one; Vicki and I pray that will bring his family a measure of comfort and peace during the difficult days ahead. We will miss George and Barbara greatly.”
George Nethercutt, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and predecessor to McMorris Rodgers, said he first met Bush when he was chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party.
Bush was campaigning for his first presidential bid, and Nethercutt, his wife and his daughter, Meredith, came to Riverfront Park to hear the candidate speak.
“The campaign decided to have a few children ride in the train car with him and Barbara,” said Meredith Nethercutt. “I was selected. It was kind of a highlight of my youth.
“I remember Barbara asked me where the name Meredith came from,” she said.
“They were incredibly lovely and kind. It was a lovely moment for me as a child.”
George Nethercutt met Bush a second time in 2004, when the former president visited for a fundraiser event. Nethercutt, like his daughter, went for a ride with Bush, after the former president spoke at Spokane Falls Community College.
“We rode to the airport, just the two of us,” he said. “He invited me to go with him and I hustled to get into the car. We talked about our families. He was very friendly and very loquacious and outgoing.
“He was a terrific leader. I felt bad that he lost the presidency in ’92, but he never harbored any ill will. He put politics aside for the good of the country.”