Editor’s note: Walker Stapleton was a cousin of President George H.W. Bush and is the Colorado state treasurer. Here is his heartfelt letter to the late president, who Stapleton always called “Uncle George,” that he wrote after the former president’s death Friday. Stapleton attended the state funeral for his cousin in Washington on Wednesday.
Dear Uncle George,
If only you could live forever. If only you could be with us forever. I have never known a human being with your kindness, inner strength and humility. You loved your family and country boundlessly. Today I grieve and pay tribute as family and as an American so proud of your legacy.
On my son Craig’s bedroom wall is the first letter you ever wrote to me – or actually about me – to my parents the day after I was born on April 16, 1974.
In the letter you asked my parents to do you one favor – to please, if they ever got sick of me, to just leave me off with you. My next 44 years were enriched by your limitless love, your care and your wisdom. I am so fortunate to have been there with you on many meaningful occasions that shaped my life and commitment to public service.
Just down the stairs from Craig’s room is a picture of one of my earliest memories, holding a stack of Mackerel on the docks in Kennebunkport, Maine after a fishing trip with you. I was 6-years-old and you asked me to go fishing with you. I thought at the time this was the coolest thing in the world because I loved your fast boat.
What I didn’t know back then was that it was also the day after you were asked to be Ronald Reagan’s running mate as vice president. I remember coming back to the breakwater and seeing signs of love and support for you lining Maine’s coastline.
“What’s going on?” I think I asked.
I remember you replying: “Giving back is a great thing for someone to do, Walker. When you are a bigger guy, you should consider it.” Kind of a hard day for me to ever forget!
I can also never forget how you attended the funeral and gave the eulogy for Woodrow Willoughby, the longtime elevator operator at the White House, because he had become family. You took that trip to the Deep South to eulogize a man others may have simply sent a condolence card for.
I remember getting the opportunity to ride with you to the Houston Astrodome to give your speech at the Republican National Convention when you were nominated for re-election to the presidency in 1992.
Everyone in the room at the Houstonian Hotel was trying to rush you into the car to get you to your speech, but you wouldn’t budge. You wouldn’t budge because the spouse of a staff member had cancer and you were too busy consoling the family.
On one of the biggest nights of your life as president, you actually cared more about giving comfort to someone in need than anything else you could’ve or should’ve been doing that night. “This is more important,” I remember you saying through the door.
You were a man of deep faith who always managed to love your family first and always at just the right moment. Outside of family, your capacity for kindness and generosity to others knew no bounds.
You were the most unfailingly gracious of men. You carried yourself with deep humility and you told great stories. You had an incredible sense of humor and often it was self-deprecating.
You always cared far more about people than politics. You had this incredible knack for making people around you feel special and important, no matter if they were in the coat room or at your dinner table. You have more friends than any man I’ll ever know.
Your deep and abiding love for our country and your lifetime of service is a testament to patriotism and heroism that will endure for the ages. You inspired me and many others around the world to give something back to others through public service.
May our country never forget your legacy of service, sacrifice and selflessness.
Godspeed, my beloved Uncle George.