Local memory: Barbara Bush visits The White's House
Upon hearing that former first lady Barbara Bush passed away Tuesday in Houston at 92 years old, Bill and Barbara White of Brightwood near Mount Hood reflected fondly on the time they got to host Bush and her husband, former president George H.W. Bush, and take them fishing on the Salmon River.
It was July 9, 1987, and vice president George H. Bush had spoken in Portland the night before as part of his presidential campaign.
Seeking some much-needed rest and relaxation, the vice president asked about taking a day on Mount Hood, well away from the political sphere. Alan "Punch" Green, then head of the state Republican party, suggested Timberline Lodge and possibly devoting part of the vice president's evening to speaking to the hotel's visitors. But the candidate vetoed the notion and asked to simply take the day for Barbara and him to relax and do some fishing.
The Whites were known to Timberline staff. Because of their cabin's seclusion and perceived safety, they were selected to host the Bushes. The Whites were given about three-days notice before the visit. Barbara White told The Post it was interesting timing for her, as she was hosting two other large events that week on either end of the Bush couple's visit.
"After that week I figured I could do anything," Barbara White joked. "We'd never been through anything like this and didn't know what to expect. The Bushes did so many thoughtful things. They brought their own photographer. They're the ones who proposed having these pictures taken. … It was quite remarkable. The first thing that really impressed me is … they were relaxed and treated us with these big smiles like they'd known us. I think it came over with me as being pretty genuine."
The Bushes arrived at the Whites' house around 10 a.m., and the fishing commenced soon after. The Whites' neighbor lent the Bushes camouflage fishing outfits and off they went to the Salmon River in search of steelhead.
"(George) turned out to be a great fisherman," White noted. It was not just for pretense. He wanted to catch a fish. … "(Barbara's) a really good sport. George Bush gets on his jacket and his camouflage pants and boots and she does the same thing in step, because she's going to go down there and try her luck at fishing also. She didn't last too long. She didn't do anything anybody wanted her to do."
After determining fishing was not her game, she added, Barbara Bush ended up in the kitchen helping prepare lunch.
"She came back and comes right in the cabin and says, 'Well, I'm doing something else,'" White recalled. "She said: 'I could tell I was going to fall right on my rear on those slick rocks and George wasn't going to help me. The cameras were all pointed on me, getting wet, and I'm not going to catch any fish.'"
Needless to say, White was a little anxious to be cooking with the future first lady.
"My husband kept saying, 'Barbara, they put on their pants just like everybody else,'" White said.
With that in mind, Barbara White tasked Barbara Bush with chopping up fruit for a salad and the two worked away.
"She was a lady in charge, that came off right away," White explained. "She could walk on her own two feet, thank you very much. There was no pretense to her."
While they cooked and walked about the property throughout the day, the two women spoke about Barbara Bush's advocacy work for improving literacy in the country, a topic White also was passionate about. At the time she worked for a Portland nonprofit organization called Association for Children and Adults with Disabilities, and still is working in education as a bus driver for the Oregon Trail School District.
"She thought that reading was crucial to success, and would do anything she could to promote literacy," White explained.
"When I read what other people are saying I think all of it is true," she said of the accounts she's read since Barbara Bush died. "I think she lived her life pretty much on her own terms."
At the end of the Bushes' day in Brightwood, no one had caught any fish, but the Bushes and the Whites enjoyed a meal together. The Bushes allowed the Whites' children, Julie and Tom, who were teenagers at the time, to ride in the motorcade and tour Air Force 2, and both Barbara and George wrote letters of thanks to the Whites on Air Force 2 stationary.
"That's one of their signatures: their courtesies and niceties over the years," Bill White said. "It was a kind of special day for our family."
The Whites were later invited to George Bush's inauguration, and the couples exchanged a handful letters over the year, some written, of course, by White House staff.
"Her nature was not to put on airs," Barbara White noted. "She'd tell you what she thought. Her pride in her family was obvious. There was a deep, deep caring and affection between them, even if he didn't help her with the fishing."