George Bush sometimes joked on the campaign trail that he was part-Ohioan. His father was born in Columbus, and his grandfather died in the state capital.
When he was running for president, it sure felt like Bush was one of us, if nothing else for the number of times he visited.
During his successful run for president in 1988, the sitting vice president came to Lima twice, once in April leading up to the primary and again in October before he eventually defeated Michael Dukakis. He also appeared in Lima in 1986.
“There’s no fooling the people of Lima by knocking defense for 10 years and riding in a tank for 10 minutes,” Bush said during that October visit, noting the city’s strong tank-building tradition.
Bush, who died Friday at the age of 94, spoke fondly of Lima products during a campaign visit to Findlay that same year.
“Whether it’s toothpaste from Procter and Gamble or the M1/A2 tank built in Lima for sale to Saudi Arabia, exports equal paychecks for the people of Ohio,” Bush told the crowd.
His message resonated with the region’s residents.
“He is a friend of Reagan,” said Mary Parks, who was a 68-year-old resident of Lima’s east side when Bush visited in April 1988. “Anyone who is a friend of Reagan is a friend of mine. They did a good job.”
During that campaign, Bush pushed the importance of opening up American markets. In a world that didn’t quite realize how small it really was yet, Bush spoke of the importance of making American products desirable outside of the U.S.
“It begins with an aggressive strategy to open new markets so that ‘Made in America’ is understood in any language, from Lima, Ohio, to Lima, Peru, and beyond. Some will say that the American worker isn’t up to it. And I’d say, ‘Look, give our workers a level playing field, and they will outperform any worker in the world, anyplace, anywhere, anytime.’”
I’ll never forget seeing Bush riding the rails aboard the “Spirit of America Tour” on his unsuccessful re-election campaign.
It was big excitement for my small hometown in Hancock County, having a sitting president go through there on the railroad, much less stop for a picnic there. My Facebook feed filled with old friends’ snapshots from that remarkable day 26 years ago.
The Bush name didn’t exactly fade away after he lost in 1992. His son, George W. Bush, spent eight years as president himself. Along the way, we heard the elder Bush speak up about the importance of bipartisanship and civility in the country. People who knew him well heaped praise on him Saturday, with the word “decency” repeated often.
We also remember him as someone who didn’t stop living his life. He skydived on his 90th birthday, the same way he marked his birthdays for 75, 80 and 85. He worked alongside other former presidents for humanitarian causes.
Given my age, Bush’s presidency is the first from which I can clearly remember details. I recall his promise of “no new taxes.” I still see him leading the charge as Americans entered the first Gulf War.
Most of all, I reminisce about the message he left behind for the man who beat him in the presidency, Bill Clinton, and what it says about this man who visited our region several times and seemed to be just like us, including his undying wish for America to succeed, no matter who’s in charge.
“You will be our President when you read this note,” Bush wrote to Clinton, underlining the word “our.” “I wish you well. I wish your family well.
“Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you. Good luck — George.”