George H.W. Bush shone as the brightest ‘point of light’

George H.W. Bush shone as the brightest ‘point of light’
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With the passing of President George H. W. Bush, The Associated Press initially labeled him as a “patrician New Englander.”

While that may have been a common perception about him, it could not be further from the truth with regard to the man for whom I had the honor to do a bit of writing during his 1988 campaign and then in his White House.


Even after my time as a White House staff writer, we corresponded once he returned to Texas.

In terms of our childhoods, we could not have been more different. Though the president indeed grew up with some degree of privilege, I grew up in abject poverty and often was homeless as a child.

When we talked about my background, he stressed how deeply he cared about the plight of the poor, and how painful it was to consider their lives.

I believe that because of his comfortable upbringing, and parents who taught him to be modest despite their wealth, he decided at a young age that it was his duty to serve his nation and give back in any way possible.

And boy, did he ever.

First, by serving at age 18 as the youngest naval aviator in World War II, a war in which he heroically flew 58 combat missions. He was shot out of the sky and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war, and just after marrying his beloved Barbara, Bush graduated from Yale — where he was a star baseball player — before finally embarking on a business career in the oil industry. He and Barbara would have six children.

All the while, his sense of duty to his nation pulled at him. His father, an investment banker, had been a Republican senator who served from 1952 until 1963.

He entered politics in 1963 as Republican Party chairman in Harris County, Texas, and then ran for U.S. Senate in 1964, a race he lost. But from that initial foray, he went on to establish a resume of service to our country that would be difficult to top: Congressman; ambassador to the United Nations; chairman of the Republican National Committee; envoy to China; director of the Central Intelligence Agency; two-term vice president; and finally, with his 1989 inauguration, president of the United States.

As president — and with that special place in his heart for the poor and disadvantaged — he spoke of the “thousand points of light,” organizations and individuals throughout our nation doing great good for their communities. Bush created the “Daily Point of Light Award” to honor Americans making a real difference through volunteerism. To date, almost 6,000 individuals and organizations have been recognized.

And through those 6,000, millions of Americans in need were touched for the better.

What a legacy, and what a man.

While George H.W. Bush indeed was infused with great class and manners, he was the farthest thing from “patrician.” His caring and deep humility made him a man of the people who spent a lifetime giving back.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration. He grew up in poverty and often was homeless as a child.