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Area politicians remember George H.W. Bush

Robert Houk and Zach Vance • Dec 4, 2018 at 9:00 PM

Local politicians and community leaders have fond memories of President George H.W. Bush. They recall the 41st president, who died Friday at 94, as a genuine public servant.

“When he talked to you, you felt like the most important person in the world,” Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine said. “He took a clear, genuine interest in you, and I appreciated that about him.” 

Levine became close with the Bush family while serving as deputy chief of staff and secretary of health administration under former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the youngest son of the 41st president. 

Levine distinctly remembers George H.W. Bush sending him personal notes from time to time. 

“The one that I remember the most, we were going through a pretty tough battle in the legislature on some issues. He sent me a note just saying he appreciated how hard I was working and he was impressed at my ability to withstand the pressure,” said Levine, who also served on the Barbara Bush Foundation Board of Directors. 

“That’s how he treated everybody. As I’m watching all this and I’m hearing everyone tell their stories, I relate to the stories because I saw it for myself.” 

State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, was first elected to the Tennessee General Assembly during Bush’s term in the White House. He remembers Bush’s political career as one with many accomplishments.

“I really respected him,” Crowe said Tuesday. “Nobody else has the varied experience like President Bush had. The youngest Naval flier in World War II, he goes on to be a diplomat, CIA director and a president.”

Former Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe said he hopes future generations will remember Bush as a public servant who dedicated his life and career to making his nation better.

“When you think of George H.W. Bush, you think of a statesman and a decent person who was only interested in serving his country,” Wolfe said.

U.S. Sen Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, served as President Bush’s secretary of education from 1991-1993. He remembers his former boss as a man of character.

“George H.W. Bush may have been the only person ever elected president of the United States primarily by being nice,” Alexander said earlier this week. “I have dozens of handwritten notes from him — as do, I suspect, hundreds of Americans. His presidency is increasingly admired for his courage and restraint: for unifying Germany, for making hard decisions that balanced the budget, and for challenging aggression in Kuwait with decisive but measured military action.”

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said he will remember President Bush as a true veteran and as a dedicated family man.

“He served bravely during World War II as a Navy pilot and was a true American hero,” Roe said. “Not only did he serve our country, but he was the youngest Naval aviator our nation had ever seen. He answered the call to serve and exemplified what it means to be a true American hero.

“Lastly, beyond his service to country was his commitment to his family. He raised his children to be strong, committed leaders like himself and loved his wife Barbara until his last breath.”

Former U.S. Rep Bill Jenkins, R-Rogersville, served as a Tennessee delegate for Bush when he was elected president in 1988. Jenkins remembers President Bush as a “humble man” who did not boast of his many accomplishments.

“He was a true American story,” Jenkins said of the late president. “I admired him for his war record, but he went on to do great things for this country in so any different ways. He was a CIA director, ambassador to China and member of Congress before becoming president.”