Remembering 41: “If his glare had been a knife, it would have sliced through the USS Missouri”

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The outpouring of kind words after President Bush’s passing is a deserved tribute to his leadership as President and his public service. For two exceptionally good testimonials, click here and here.

But no tribute to Mr. Bush would be complete without mentioning his zeal to win – especially on the softball field. This man did not like to lose even if it was “just a friendly game” of softball with his staff. And woe to any staff member who didn’t appreciate this!

Mr. Bush’s passion to win and a young staffer’s naiveté were both on splendid display at a 1987 staff softball game at the Vice President’s residence on Observatory Hill. I was playing shortstop when Mr. Bush came to bat. He hit a one-hop and sprinted to first. I moved toward second base, grabbed the ball and then realized I had two options:

#1: Throw it hard to first, likely throwing him out though risking “beaning” the nation’s second most powerful elected official.

This would not have been a good career move.

#2: Deliberately overthrow the first baseman, my fellow speechwriter Joe Casper.

After a nanosecond of introspection, I made the throw. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the height of his career couldn’t have grabbed the ball I tossed over Joe’s head.

More than 30 years later, I still vividly recall that look Vice President Bush gave me while standing on first base. He knew I’d deliberately overthrown and he didn’t like it one bit.

If his glare had been a knife, it would have sliced through the USS Missouri.

George Bush was a tough and demanding boss but never unfair. If a speech text wasn’t to his liking, he would stress firmly what needed to be improved. But he was always respectful to his staff. In turn, this fostered the intense loyalty that so many of us have felt toward him for these past decades.

Rest in peace, Mr. President. Thank you for everything.