Author Jean Becker delights audiences with stories about his boss, George HW Bush

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Jean Becker, chief of staff to the late President George HW Bush and author of “The Man I Knew,” was the keynote speaker at the University of New England’s annual George and Barbara Bush lecture series. Photo by Tammy Wells

BIDDEFORD – When former President George HW Bush turned to her and said “Jean, I have an idea”, as he frequently did, her chief of staff Jean Becker braced himself for whatever he could say then.

“She was the most thoughtful person I have ever met,” she said.

One of those ideas involved him jumping out of a plane.

“I asked if he had told his wife” about his plans, Becker said.

Becker was Chief of Staff to President George HW Bush from 1994 until his death in 2018 and Barbara Bush’s deputy press secretary from 1989 to 1992.

She was the guest speaker on Thursday, September 30 at the George and Barbara Bush Distinguished Lecture Series, hosted annually by the University of New England.

Becker’s stories about his boss were fond memories of an old friend. The stories were warm, funny and endearing – and reveal the same qualities she saw in the former president.

During the 2020 pandemic, Becker wrote a book on Bush titled “The Man I Knew: The Amazing Story of George HW Bush’s Post-Presidency”. She spoke about her book and the President and Barbara Bush in the hour-long presentation.

The book tells stories about how Bush lived his life, his penchant for pranks and his character. She told a few of those stories on Thursday – and she invited four of the president’s assistants on stage to tell a few themselves.

Assistants to President George HW Bush joined his chief of staff Jean Becker, center, as she spoke at the annual George and Barbara Bush lecture series at the University of New England. Photo by Tammy Wells

“I wasn’t sure I should write a book; I wasn’t sure these were my stories to tell, ”Becker said from the podium. But she added that there were so many stories, so she went ahead.

Becker was an endearing speaker, and there were frequent asides: “Mikhail Gorbachev once told me to shut up,” she said of the former Soviet leader, with a smile. “I kissed Tom Selleck,” she said in the next breath.

The conference was attended by Bush’s daughter Doro Bush Koch, Barbara Bush’s brother Scott Pierce, and other family and friends, said University of New England President James Hebert.

“The Bushes were role models for our time,” said the college president, welcoming Becker on stage.

Becker spoke of George HW Bush’s friendship with former President Bill Clinton that blossomed in 2005, when President George W. Bush asked the two to come together to encourage private fundraising to help people devastated by the tsunami in Indonesia.

Friendship grows.

“President Bush was the father Bill Clinton never had,” Becker told the audience.

She introduced the assistants, who had their own stories.

Gian-Carlo Peressutti spoke about how the former president urged him to attend a Rolling Stones concert after his official duties ended on a trip to Hawaii to mark Pepsi’s 100th anniversary. Preressutti reminded the former president that his job was to escort him and Ms Bush to their room.

“He said, ‘go ahead’,” Peressutti recalled, adding that the former president took his tie and suit jacket and brought them back to the hotel. “I’ll never forget the 41st President carrying all my things to his room, just so I could spend an evening and watch the concert.”

Then there was the moment in Greensboro, NC where Bush reached out to shake a woman’s hand and the assistant saw him move a little awkwardly.

The Secret Service responded by radio that they needed to locate a men’s clothing store. They ended up at Walmart, with Bush asking for the location of the men’s underwear department and telling the clerk exactly why he wanted to know. “The belt of my boxers snapped,” he told the woman.

Aide Tom Frechette said he had been in the post for three weeks when asked to chat with Bush. As the assistant sat down, a series of embarrassing noises emerged.

“I had no idea he had received an electronic version of a whoopie pad,” Frechette said. He remembers thinking “this is going to be a wild ride”.

The late President George HW Bush was a man with a sense of humor, who enjoyed making practical jokes – like the time he cut the bed in the hotel room where granddaughters Barbara and Jenna had to. sleep during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, recalled assistant Jim Appleby.

Coleman LaPointe recalled the day the 41st President of the United States saw a Secret Service agent arrive at work with a shaved head, asked why, and heard from Patrick, the 2.5-year-old son of another agent. , who had been diagnosed with leukemia and lost her hair due to cancer treatment.

Bush, who lost his daughter Robin to cancer, immediately said he would shave his head as well.

Patrick and his family have been invited to meet the Bushes. Patrick, he added, is now 10 years old and doing well.

“It was a selfless act,” said LaPointe. “What I admired most about President Bush was his humility.”

Becker read speeches by Barbara Bush that emphasized altruism and tolerance.

“We need his voice right now,” Becker said.

In the audience was Mya Hankes, a sophomore from UNE. a major in communication and English which was among those invited to lunch with Becker earlier today.

“We sat down and talked about the book and the Bush family in general,” said Hankes, who described the former president as “a wonderful humanist.”

Becker said his boss’s mantra was “faith, family and friends” and serving others, and recited his 10 tips: “Don’t be discouraged when life challenges you; don’t blame others for your setbacks; when things are going well, always give credit to others; don’t talk all the time, listen; do not brag, let others emphasize your virtues; lend a hand to someone else; no one likes a bossy bigshot; if you are successful, be nice; don’t be afraid to cry; and say your prayers.

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