Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Bush Family of Greenwich Remembered

George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018), the 41st President of the United States from 1989 to 1993, was once a resident of Greenwich. His father and mother, Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush, moved to Greenwich in 1924, the year George Herbert Walker was born. Prescott Bush Sr. lived here until he died in 1972. Once moderator of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting, the elder Bush was buried at Putnam Cemetery in Greenwich. We at the Greenwich Library Oral History Project are fortunate enough to have several interviews with members of the Bush family, one, conducted in 1991(by OHP volunteer Esther H. Smith), is with Mary Walker, aunt to the Bush children, and the other, conducted in 1992 (by OHP volunteer Marian Phillips), is with Prescott Sheldon Jr., the eldest of the Bush children, brother to one former United States president and uncle to another. 
This interview summation is by Oral History Project volunteer Joseph Campbell. We begin with the Marian Phillips interview of Prescott Sheldon Jr., “Political Activity in the Bush Family.” 
The Bush family loomed large in Connecticut and in Greenwich. They lived here in town, conducted business here, and also famously became involved in local, state, and national politics while here. In January and February of 1992, Prescott Bush Sr., the elder brother of former President George H.W. Bush and the uncle to George W. Bush, sat down for an interview with Greenwich Oral History Project volunteer Marian Phillips. In two parts, the interview is a fascinating look into the Bush family, who we often hear about but rarely get to see up close. 

Bush Family portrait
George H.W. Bush, second from right. Prescott S. Bush Sr., to his  right
photo: Greenwich Oral History Project files
The interview is wide-ranging, covering Prescott Bush Jr.’s and the family’s involvement in politics. His own political career in Connecticut was brief, and he retired as an insurance executive before his death in 2010 at 87. In the interview, he tells about his father, Prescott Sr., a “Wonderful guy with a tremendous sense of humor,” a trait that appears to have filtered down to his children. He was a man who always made sure the family, though wealthy, managed to stay grounded in reality. He taught his children that though they had a comfortable life and even a life of privilege, they also had a duty to give back and look out for those who were less fortunate. This teaching may have motivated George H.W. Bush to leave school to join the Navy, where he become the youngest pilot during World War II. 

Bush Sr. was apparently well aware of the role good fortune played in their family’s circumstances. They had money because they worked hard, yes, but the elder Bush impressed upon the family the importance of not taking good fortune for granted.
Prescott S. Bush Sr.
Photo: Wiki Commons

Another significant point: In the interview, Bush Jr. addresses the issue of the family’s pursuing politics and makes it clear that the elder Bush never pushed politics—or any career for that matter. (Prescott Bush Sr. was himself a United States senator, representing Connecticut, for almost ten years.) According to his son, not only did he encourage his children to make their own career decisions, he also told them he was not going to offer them advice, unless asked. Prescott Bush Jr. paints a warm and glowing portrait of the Bush family, leaving the reader to conclude that this must have been a wonderful family in which to grow up. 

Bush Jr. spends ample time on his family’s foray into politics and what that was like for his father and the family. Politics, it seems, provided for them a way to serve, to work to help others. There is discussion about the view of the family as patrician. Bush Jr. makes it clear that this was a distinction the family did not want. They worked hard to keep that perception out of the minds of the electorate. Bush Jr. also discusses in detail his brother George H.W. Bush’s decision to seek the presidency and the role his family played in his final determination to run. In this and in other areas, the reader senses the importance of family. Prescott Bush Jr. describes the famous BBQs, the games of horseshoes, and the sense of togetherness that defined the family. 

Throughout, Prescott Bush Jr. impresses upon the reader the family’s love of country. The elder Bush, the son says, instilled in the family the belief that, rich or poor, we are all Americans. 

Food for thought then and now.

The Oral History Project interview, “Political Activity in the Bush Family,” January and February 1992, can be found in the local history reference area on the first floor of the library and in the OHP office on the lower level of the library.