President George Bush As I Knew Him

The news that President Bush died put a lump in my throat as I began to remember all the many kindnesses he bestowed on my wife Diane and me and our family. He was a true and faithful friend!
One of my favorite times was our trip with President Bush to Honduras in 1998 to help with our mission work there after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country. It was one of the worst hurricanes in history, because it hovered over the country for seven days, bringing unprecedented levels of destruction. It killed thousands, destroyed more than 2,000 schools and 500 bridges, and left the nation devastated. The plight of people in Honduras was getting no attention around the world and therefore no help.
I called the Presidential office in Houston and to my surprise President Bush personally took my call!
I told him the problem and asked if he would fly to Honduras with me to inspect the damage and then try to get international support for the people there.
His answer was short and sweet. “Get a plane and meet me at Hobby Airport at 5 a.m. Sunday morning. We should be able to get there, have a good day, and get back sometime after dark.” I said, “Yes sir! We’ll be there!”
Then it suddenly dawned on me — I’ve asked the former President of the United States to fly with me to Honduras! It’s Friday, two days before the trip! Where am I going to get a plane appropriate for the President and how am I going to pay for it?
Well, the Lord works in miraculous ways! I suddenly thought of my friend Rich DeVos at Amway. They would have a plane, but Rich had retired and was not in good health. I called his son Dick DeVos, the President of Amway (Betsy DeVos’ husband). Dick was busy and couldn’t take the call. I told his secretary what we needed. She promised to get back to me.
Ten minutes later, my phone rang. It was Dick’s secretary. She said, “Dick said he’ll have the plane there at 5 a.m. Sunday.” She gave me the pilot’s name and number, and she added, “It will be an unmarked plane. Don’t give Amway credit. Keep the attention on President Bush and the needs of the people in Honduras.” I agreed.
That Sunday morning, my daughter Margaret, then 21, and our friend Danny Smith, and I were at Hobby waiting. The President pulled up with his car to the tarmac. Hugs all around. Then we were off! Amway had provided a beautiful plane more than adequate for the President. That day, we spent 16 hours together, mostly in close quarters.
I was especially happy that my daughter Margaret got to spend an amazing amount of time with the President — a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
On a personal level, President Bush was the warmest and kindest person. After we had visited on the flight down for an hour or two, he got busy on his laptop (yes in 1998) placing orders for Christmas presents for his grandchildren. Somehow he was able to use the Internet. He was going through different types of boots on the computer and would periodically ask our opinion. He said he gave his grandchildren boots every year, and he was quite an expert in picking them out!
When we arrived at Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the President of Honduras, Carlos Flores, whom I knew from working in the country previously, was there to greet us.  The press of the world was on hand to see what the Presidents had to say. They both spoke passionately about the devastation in the country and the desperate needs of the people.
A couple of reporters were allowed to join us as we flew out on U.S. Army helicopters (the Secret Service refused to let the President fly on Honduran Army helicopters).
We made a number of stops. The most memorable was in a village of about 1,000 people who had been cut off from all help. Days had passed since the hurricane, but no aid of any kind had made it into the valley. We were the first outsiders to arrive.
Our little delegation included President Bush; President Flores, an LSU grad whose wife is from Alexandria, LA; our daughter Margaret; Danny Smith, and a couple of others.
The people had no food and little left of their possessions. They had been praying for help.
You can imagine their reaction when suddenly helicopters out of nowhere helicopters were hovering over them — helicopters loaded with supplies and two Presidents!
People were joyous and giving thanks.  Even though they were very hungry, they bypassed the food and surged to the Presidents, surrounding them, clapping, shaking hands, and hugging them. All of them recognized President Bush, who was a special man in Honduras. The people were so excited to see him and all of us! We have been abandoned, they said, but now we have hope!
Much more happened that day, but space does not permit me to tell much more.  The most important thing was what happened after we got back to the States.
President Bush was so moved by the plight of the people in Honduras that he made it his personal mission to raise as much money as he could to help the people. He appeared on all the major national TV talk shows in the U.S. and appealed to governments and private organizations. Altogether, he raised, according to President Flores, more than $500 million! It was amazing!
What a blessing George Bush was to so many!
As I write this, it’s late at night at my office in Baton Rouge but the memories flood back…
•    Vice President Bush was so kind to me in 1981 when President Reagan appointed me to be one of his trade advisors.
•    When President Bush and Barbara flew to Guatemala to visit our medical clinics in 1993, they took a personal interest in the needs of the people.
•    When President Bush came to Baton Rouge to campaign for me for the U,S, Senate in 1996, he gave one of his best speeches ever.
•    And, of course, when he invited Diane to the Oval Office in 1990 and accepted a photograph she had taken of her work with the Miskito Indians in Honduras, he hung it in the White House!
Yes, I remember President Bush — with love and gratitude for his kindness and concern for so many and for the Jenkins family.

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