This was written years ago at the request of USA Today, when those editors thought (as did his children) that Victor Gold would go on forever.

IMG_0988.JPGPhoto by Robert L. Knudsen, 1980.

The story was well-known at the time, but is worth retelling for the benefit of members of the Twitter Generation – those under the age of forty who remember George Bush the Elder only as a lively octogenarian with a penchant for parachuting out of airplanes on his birthday.

It goes like this: On the night of March 30, 1981, with President Ronald Reagan hospitalized after a failed assassination attempt, Vice President Bush landed at Andrews Air Force Base, following a hurried return from a trip to Fort Worth, Texas.

The nation’s capital was in a state of shock and confusion. With members of the Cabinet awaiting his arrival, Bush was advised by his Secret Service detail that for security reason he should helicopter directly to the White House South Lawn rather than take the inconvenient route of heading to the Vice President’s residence, then motorcading to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As Bush’s speechwriter at the time, I well remember the Vice President’s response: “No,” he said, “only the President lands on the South Lawn.”

So it was that, whatever the rush or inconvenience, George Herbert Walker Bush took the long way – but by his lights, the right way – to the White House that fateful night.

To those who knew and worked with him over the years, this was vintage Bush, a man of ingrained modesty, even in moments when the spotlight of history was on him.

In a political world of massive egos, it was a quality all-too-often mistaken for weakness, as when a newsmagazine, with front-cover emphasis, labeled him a “wimp.”

Some wimp. At age 18, with America’s entry into World War Two, he became the youngest aviator in the Navy, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross after being shot down in combat. As a Houston, Texas congressman, he braved a rally of outraged segregationist constituents angered over his vote in favor of the civil rights open housing bill, telling them, in Edmund Burke’s words, “Your representative owes you not only his industry, but his judgment.”

And more: As director of the CIA – a job that would have buried the political future of a weaker man – Bush guided that troubled agency though one of the most dangerous periods of the Cold War.

And still more: As U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to Communist China, chairman of the Republican National Committee – the list goes on, for no American president in the 20th century entered the White House with his range of experience in taking on difficult (and politically risky) assignments.

Not to overlook that signature moment in George H. W. Bush’s presidency when, as commander-in-chief, he drew a line in the sand, putting together an unprecedented coalition to repel Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

All of which, given his more recent role as one of the country’s most-admired former presidents, makes an impressive resume for the Twitter Generation to consider; though Bush, true to form, discouraged all talk of his “legacy.”

As the last American president who could claim membership in the Greatest Generation, he would help build a presidential library on the Texas A&M campus for future generations to study his record. But time and again, despite the urging of friends (and publishers), George H. W. would turn down all requests to write his own presidential history. Appraising his record, he said, was for others to do.

Still, there was one concession he made to an interviewer who asked what, of all the things he’d done in life, was the accomplishment he was proudest of.

George the Elder thought a moment, then answered: “The fact that our children still come home.”

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Victor Gold was co-author of George H. W. Bush’s personal memoir, Looking Forward.