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Westminster remembers George H.W. Bush

Westminster remembers George H.W. Bush

December 5th, 2018 by Jenny Gray in Local News
Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush speaks in 1986 at Westminster College. He also came to Fulton two years later to campaign, just weeks before his election as president.

Before George H.W. Bush became the nation's No. 41, he became Westminster College's 41st Green Lecture speaker.

Bush had been invited to speak five years earlier, but had declined. Then, offerings from the college succeeded.

"It was 40 years to the day after (Sir Winston) Churchill's speech," Rob Crouse, director of media and public relations at Westminster said. "He was only here an hour and a half total."

Two years after Bush's 1986 John Findley Green lecture, he must have gotten the Fulton bump. He returned Oct. 18, 1988, while on the campaign trail in his bid to become the American president — a race he won just a few weeks later by seven million votes.

On Tuesday, Crouse went through folders of newspaper clips, thank you notes and organizational plans pertaining to Bush's first Fulton trip. There were invitations as seating was scant only 1,350 seats were available in Champ Auditorium. Cream-colored tickets were issued for the second-tier guests, and coveted light blue tickets for the special top-tier guests.

Protocol was sharply followed, and the Secret Service agents surrounding the affair were not to be toyed with, one memo illustrated.

"The Vice President will not be part of the processional or recessional," Crouse said, reading that memo aloud. "He will come to the stage only after the others have reached their seats."

The event would be broadcast live on Fulton's ABC radio station KKCA. The Fulton Sun was represented by reporters Kent Davy and George Mazurek and photographer Mike DeSantis.

An out-of-town news helicopter was cleared to land on Priest Field, but was ordered not to leave until Bush's motorcade was well on its way back to the Columbia airport. Air Force Two (AF One was reserved for then-President Reagan) brought Bush directly from Houston, and would then whisk him to GOP fundraisers in St. Louis.

Bush's communications staff — in place days in advance of the event — ordered three back stage drinks for the president and First Lady Barbara Bush: A bottle of Perrier, a 7 Up, and a Sprite.

The campus had been abuzz since Nov. 8, 1985, when Bush's assistant, Deborah J. Hutton, mailed the college the letter of acceptance. (Ann) Claire Booth Luce, American author, politician and U.S. ambassador, had encouraged Bush to make the speech.

"In 1981, he'd turned down an invitation to give the 39th Green Lecture," Crouse said. "That was five years before."

The day finally came, and went off with out a hitch. Members of the Missouri Military Academy Marching Band played for him, as they had also played for Winston Churchill and Harry Truman.

Another Fulton Sun writer, Jeff Wolf, preceded the event in the paper the day before, saying Bush's speech would draw world attention. The topic was vague; it had been termed as a "major foreign policy speech." The lecture was to be followed by a three-day symposium concluding with the fifth Crosby Kemper Lecture to be given by a former member of the British Parliament.

On the morning of, Mazurak wrote an article telling the community more details. He noted Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft and former Gov. Christopher Bond would be in attendance.

Westminster President Harvey Saunders would confer upon Bush an honorary doctor of laws degree.

The speech

When the vice president took the podium and the crowd settled in their seats, Fulton resident Warren M. Hollrah was there.

"I was at both speeches," he said Tuesday. "I'm a Republican, and I was highly impressed."

His recollection was the national news media didn't take much note of the 1986 lecture, but all eyes were on candidate Bush when he returned.

"He was almost president," Hollrah added. "Because of Churchill's visit, we've been able to attract big speakers."

Hollrah is a 1976 graduate of Westminster who then went on to work at the National Churchill Museum for 21 years. He had the insight only an employee could have.

He remembered the museum's staff lining up for Bush as he and Saunders came down from viewing the Church of St. Mary, above the museum.

"We were all lined up near the bottom of the steps, and he came by and shook each of our hands," Hollrah said.

His friend, a custodian, also had a perspective during the speech which the audience didn't have.

"Back of the stage, there were two Secret Service agents behind the drapes with machine guns," Hollrah added.

Bush's speech was reported by Mazurak, who said it called out Nicaragua as a "communist threat" and that American aid to Contra freedom fighters was "like taking out an insurance policy for freedom and democracy all over the region." (The affair became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, with profits from weapons sales to Iran used to assist Contra rebels in Nicaragua.) Bush also noted expansion of democratically elected governments in Central American countries including Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize, and said Nicaragua is swimming "against the democratic tide."

Bush also spoke about an on-going war in Afghanistan, saying a lasting solution "requires total Soviet withdrawal, a return of Afghanistan to true non-alignment, the right of refugess to return home and permitting the Afghan people to determine their own destiny." He also expressed a wish for the end of apartheid in South Africa and praised a new democratically elected government in the Philippines.

Bush also spoke critically of the Soviet Union (now Russia) and said Churchill's characterization of the Soviet threat as an "iron curtain" "was not just a metaphor. It is a real, physical, as well as moral presence."

President George H.W. Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924. He died Friday in Houston, Texas, preceded by his wife who died April 17.

His state funeral is today, and will be attended by his son, former president George W. Bush, other past American presidents and first ladies, and world leaders including Britain's Prince Charles, former Polish President Lech Walesa, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The funeral will be at Washington National Cathedral at 10 a.m. Central Time, and covered by many news outlets. A speaker last year at Westminster College, presidential historian Jon Meacham, who was Bush's biographer, will participate in the eulogies.

Today is declared a national day of morning with financial markets and the federal government to be closed. Bush's final resting place will be next to his wife at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas.