Tuesday, November 16, 2010
My Neighbor is in Parade Magazine this week...
W. Bush with parents George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush in 1955. [Photo by Polaris]
The Best of Friends
By President George W. Bush
Harry Truman, one of my predecessors, is often quoted as saying, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” But while the 33rd president and I are said to have much in common, we diverge on this topic. Now that I’m retired, people ask me for advice, and I tell everyone: Make friends, keep them, and learn from them your entire life.
When I was young, my mother had a doormat that said, “Friends make the world go round.” Although clichéd, the phrase captured how my parents lived. They made friends at every stage of their lives and always found time for them.
The commitment was mutual. When I was 6, my younger sister, Robin, was diagnosed with leukemia. The disease was essentially incurable, but hoping for a miracle, my parents took her from our home in Midland, Tex., to New York City for treatment. One of my earliest memories is of staying at their friends’ houses in Texas whenever they went to the East Coast. When Robin passed away, I was too young to comprehend the wrenching pain my parents felt, but I saw how their friends gave them solace during a time of grief. It was a lesson I’ve always remembered.
At the time, my brother Jeb was just a baby. I felt like an only child for a few years, so I spent my days playing baseball and riding bikes with Mike Proctor, Robert McCleskey, and Joe O’N eill. Nearly 60 years later, they are still among my closest friends.
Click here to enter to win a signed copy of the president’s new memoir, Decision Points!
When I was in seventh grade, my family moved to Houston; two years later, I left the state to attend Phillips Academy in Massachusetts. The transition was extremely challenging, but I made it through those years in large part because of the friends I made. At boarding school and later in college at Yale, I was captivated by the diversity of people I met, like Muhammad Saleh, a Palestinian Muslim who became a successful businessman; Don Etra, a devout Jew who is now a distinguished lawyer; and Roland Betts, a Long Island native, my partner in owning the Texas Rangers and now an entertainment-industry leader. These friends all opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the world.
The future president (in cap) with brothers Neil and Jeb and a friend in 1959.
Quite often, a conversation with a friend has changed the course of my life. It was a Yale classmate, Mike Brooks, who suggested I apply to business school. Two Midland friends, Don Evans and Don Jones, invited me to the Bible study that helped rekindle my faith. And my childhood pal Joe O’Neill invited me to a barbecue where he introduced me to Laura Welch. She was beautiful, intelligent, and warm—and three months later we were married.
People often ask Laura and me how we’ve managed to maintain our friendships. There’s no magic formula—you just stay in touch. I’ve always made it a priority to call, write, or see friends when I have time. During my presidency, I took great joy in welcoming my old pals to Camp David and the White House. Men I’d known since Little League would gaze around the majestic setting of the Oval Office and whisper, “I can’t believe I’m here.” Inevitably, they’d look at me and say, “I can’t believe you’re here!”
When I was president, I depended on my lifelong acquaintances to help me maintain perspective. Sometimes an evening of laughter and memories was just what I needed to lift my spirits and clear my mind. Other times, I’d turn to old friends for candid advice—I knew that they had no agenda other than assisting me.
On Jan. 20, 2009, Laura and I flew home to Texas after President Barack Obama’s inauguration. More than a dozen friends shared that final ride with us. A large crowd had assembled in Midland’s town square to welcome us home, and I was so deeply moved to see the faces of people from my childhood, the oil business, and my days as governor. As I said that day: “They were friends before politics; they were friends during politics; they’ll be my friends after politics.” My friends have truly been one of the greatest gifts of my life.
It’s been said you can judge a person by the friends he keeps—and if that’s true, then I’m a fortunate man indeed