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George H.W. Bush memoir offers unique glimpse into life after presidency

Author Jean Becker was the post-White House chief of staff for former President George H.W. Bush for nearly 25 years.

PORTLAND, Maine — In the summer of 2010, former President George H.W. Bush sat down at his home in Kennebunkport and jotted a quick note to a young woman who had come to Maine for a work project.

“Dear Taylor,” he wrote. “There are a lot of family fans of yours here at our lovely place by the sea. Please come over tomorrow afternoon for a swim and relaxation by our pool. I believe in long shots, so I hope this one works out.”

The invitation was accepted, and the next day Taylor Swift came by with several of her associates. 

She “signed photos and hugged everyone she met like old friends. When she came back later that summer to debut her ‘Mine’ music video on the grounds of St. Ann’s Church, her first invite to come watch the debut was to her new friend, George Bush 41.”

That is one of the many stories Jean Becker tells in “The Man I Knew,” her memoir about George Bush, whom she served for nearly 25 years as his post-White House chief of staff. 

When the book came out in 2021, we talked with Becker for 207 via Zoom since she wasn’t coming to Maine because of the pandemic. 

Now the book is available in paperback, and we sat down with her in person to talk about some stories we didn’t get to in our first conversation — stories that offer an unusually personal look at the Bushes.

One of them comes from the last week of Bush’s life, when it was clear the end was drawing near. 

Former President Obama was in Houston for an event, and although Bush wasn’t feeling well, he insisted that no change be made to the long-planned visit between the two men. 

“I would like to see Barack,” he said firmly. “He might have been ninety-four years old and frail,” Becker writes, “But he still knew how to get his way.”

After a half-hour visit with a few other people present, during which Bush mostly listened, Obama said he would like to spend a few minutes alone with him. 

After leaving the room, Bush biographer Jon Meacham tiptoed back down the hall and stopped outside the door to try to eavesdrop. Becker "gave him the devil, to which he argued, 'I am a historian and this is history.'"

"He reluctantly backed away,” Becker writes, "But he had heard enough to know why President Obama wanted some time alone: He wanted to thank President Bush for his service to his country—service that had begun, Obama graciously noted, in World War II [as a naval aviator shot down over the Pacific]."

"'We all took a lot of flak,' President Obama told President Bush, 'But you took it for real.'"

Watch our interview for more of Jean Becker’s stories about George and Barbara Bush.

More stories from 207:

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