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Remembering my encounters with President Bush

I am still in the Republic of Georgia where I wrote the letter below to President and Mrs. Bush in March of 2010. As I reflect upon the life of a remarkable statesman, I delight in having had the opportunity to witness the graciousness that Bush 41 embodied. Rest in peace, Mr. President.

Dear President and Mrs. Bush,

When I was 11 years old Easter weekend of 1993, I got up from the dinner table to walk to bathroom down the hallway of the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande Florida. On my way, I passed you, several Secret Servicemen and Mrs. Bush. At first I didn’t notice you but when I saw Mrs. Bush, I knew exactly who you were. I yelled something inappropriate like “Hey you’re Barbara Bush and you — you’re the president.”

You said something like, “Well actually I used to be.”

Mrs. Bush giggled and said very nicely, “Well, hello young man.”

I was thrilled and said “Sir — ma’am, would you please wait right here so I can show y’all to my friend, otherwise he won’t believe me.” It humors me to this day that I asked the former leader of the Free World to wait on me (an 11-year-old) in a hotel lobby. What amazes me even more is how kind you both were to me. An 11-year-old is a very impressionable creature, and I have never forgotten the way you treated me. I think you found the situation quite humorous. You explained that you needed to get going; I believe you were there for a wedding. But you pointed to the end of the hall and explained that there was a secret door, and that, if I got my friend and came and knocked, you would open it and meet us. I did so, and dragged my best friend, Elliott Merck, down the hall to come see you. He didn’t believe me, of course, or that the wooden hotel wall in front of us was a secret room. But when I knocked, it opened, and a Secret Servicemen greeted us and welcomed us in to shake your hand. Elliott has never doubted me since. We are both still dreamers. He is now in Hollywood making films and I am a writer.

The next day was Easter, and by luck we received disposable cameras from the Easter Bunny. We rented bikes and set out to find you again, so we could prove the tale to our friends. We interrogated a substantial portion of the hotel staff for intel on your whereabouts, again a quite humorous scenario, looking back. Eventually we found a kind source who took pity on us and pointed towards the golf course. It is there that we chased you down on our bicycles. One of your Secret Service guys stopped us, said we could get a photograph, but we had to let you play through the hole. We did so, and not only did we get a picture, we got several. I asked a Secret Service agent to take my photo with the president, and he kindly obliged. Moreover, the young twerp I was proceeded to direct photography until we each had several photographs with you. I then explained that I would have voted for you not Bill Clinton “if I coulda voted.”

I would also like to add that, while we were waiting ,we asked your saint of a Secret Serviceman, who probably had not signed on for PR with little hellions, 10,000 questions. He finally said, “Look guys you see these palm trees all around us.”

“Yeah,” we said.

“Well there are Secret Service officers up in them with sniper rifles looking right at you.”

“Wow.” We said, “Which ones.”

“If I told you,” he said, “I’d have to kill you.”

“Awesome!” We said because that was pretty much the coolest thing we’d ever heard. So let’s just assume that if we told that story several times a day for the last 14 years to just about everyone we knew, and then they told everyone they knew, then we have done more to reinforce the reputation of the Secret Service than an entire division of PR officers.

Meeting you and Mrs. Bush at such a young age and having y’all take the time and the patience to treat me as if I was an adult, has had a profound impression on my life. I remain a staunch believer in democracy — that our leaders are not only accessible but it is their duty to be so. This is the impression with which you left me. That no elected official in this country was out of my reach or too important to speak with me — that no dream is too large to pursue. I thank you for that. Today I am an advisor on U.S. and media relations for President Saakashvili of the Republic of Georgia. There is a street here in Tbilisi proudly named after your son.

Before that I was the managing editor of the Charleston Mercury in Charleston, S.C., the city where I know Mrs. Bush attended high school at Ashley Hall. In the last few years I have had the opportunity to interview many great leaders and even more great human beings.

Now 16 years later, I am once again asking for a little bit of your time. You both have led lives of service to this country far and beyond what was ever asked of you. You are a role model not just to Republicans, but also a symbol of gentlemanly bipartisanship. I think that, especially in these volatile political times, your words and your wisdom would be a soothing and much-needed reminder to the people of Georgia what it means and what it takes to live in a true democracy. I fear that each day I’m here this country — this tiny island of freedom in the heart of Eurasia — is slowly being lost to a tyrant waiting just to the north.

On behalf of the staff of the Georgian President, I extend to you an invitation to come here to Tbilisi, though I know you are quite busy with your humanitarian efforts. Any time you have to spare, even a phone call or a few words would mean the world not only to me but I think it would resonate with the people of Georgia at a very volatile time in this country’s history.

Though it was briefly that we met, you and Mrs. Bush have been tremendous inspirations in my life. I hope to one day see you again.

Thank you so much for your consideration of my request.


Will Cathcart

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