Nobility of Public Service: Remembering Former President George H.W. Bush

Dec 5, 2018

Former President George H.W. Bush
Credit whitehouse.gov

Alabamians are remembering Former President George H.W. Bush today. David Alsobrook worked for the National Archives and was the director of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas. Alsobrook, who now lives in Mobile got to know the Bush family and A-P-R’s Stan Ingold took some time to discuss with him what President Bush was like as a person…

“The interesting thing about him and the great thing about him was that term nobility of public of service that phrase also applied to other federal employees. He considered himself a federal employee too. And that includes service protection detail, all the white house permeant staff, and all the people who worked behind the scenes in the white house. The groundskeepers, the gardeners, the cooks, the carpenters, the electricians, the plumbers. All the people who worked there and they all loved the Bush family. As a result he treated all of us like family members. We were never treated just like federal employees, we were treated like member of the Bush family.”

Now he had some Alabama ties with the staff in his library. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

“He asked me why seven of the thirty-two staff members in his library had earned Auburn degrees, including myself. So I took that opportunity to briefly tell him the story of Auburns archive training program and how they produced a lot of archives over the years. He listened very patiently and then he gave me that lop sided smile and then he said well I see I understand well war eagle, war eagle. So that was kind of the nature of our relationship. It was very informal there was nothing bureaucratic about it and that the way it was all those years.”

I understand he was very fond of his boats. What was it like boating with him?

“He was very proud of his new GPS electronics on board the fatality two. And he really boasted about it. But going back to Walker’s point we became lost in the heavy fog. And he became really frustrated because service made him gear the boat down. An agent crawled out on the bow and lay there prone guiding us through all the different obstacles like lobster pots, markers buoys and things. And he, President Bush grew increasingly  

Former President George H.W. Bush and David Alsobrook aboard the Fidelity II
Credit David Alsobrook

aggravated with our snail like space so he took fidelity two to a small cove were there were a bunch of fishing boats were anchored. And he loudly held the crew in one boat. George Bush here can you give me the directions to Walker’s Point? And I’ll never forget the look on the faces of those fishermen’s faces who were up in that cove. I mean out of the fog here comes the 41th president of the United States asking for directions. So I suspect that there are probably still some fishermen up in Maine who still talking about the day that the president appeared out of the fog to help them how to get home. But that’s just the way he was .Very informal, just very casual. And treated everybody with great respect. He didn’t care what station of life you came from.”

What do believe is one of his greatest accomplishments as president?

“If you look at the way he handled the end of the cold war. You know some of the democrats and republicans said he should go over there and dance on top of the Berlin wall when it came down. But he said no, this would anger the Russians and who knows what would happen there. We can say that because of his maturity and experience that he handled the end of the cold war in a very diplomatic a very logical way and I think it worked out much better over the long haul. When you have a one term President like George Bush you just don’t realized all that he accomplished until he’s gone.”

With everything he did in his career and as president. What will his legacy be?

David Alsobrook with former Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush
Credit David Alsobrook

“That he was a president that united us. I think he dealt with some very, very difficult and foreign domestic issues with grace and with class and with maturity will be certainly be part of his legacy.  But I do think getting back to the nobility of public service. You know from my very own bias point of view as a former career federal employee I think the fact that he understood from his own service how the federal government worked and how they were all these people behind the scenes that kept the country running day to day and in the long term I think that’s a big part of his legacy that’s often overlooked.”

Alsobrook served as the Carter Presidential Library’s first Supervisory Archivist and as the first Director of the George H.W. Bush and Clinton Presidential Libraries.  Last year he published a history of Eufaula’s cotton mill village and its people, titled SOUTHSIDE.  He is currently writing a memoir of his Presidential Library experience and service to three Presidents.