President George H.W. Bush and former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson shared many personal and touching moments, including a snowball fight on the last night of the elder Bush’s presidency at the White House.
Simpson, of Cody, will recall those special times when he joins in eulogizing the 41st president of the United States at memorial services Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
President George Herbert Walker Bush died Friday night in Houston, Texas, at the age of 94. Bush served in this nation’s highest office from 1989 through 1992 after eight years as vice president under Ronald Reagan (1981-1988).
“We didn’t tell people how close we were,” Simpson said Monday, as he prepared to head to Washington for the first of two services for the late president. A second memorial service will follow on Thursday, at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Bush’s adopted city of Houston, Texas.
Simpson, a three-term United States Senator from Wyoming between 1978 and 1996, was asked to be one of three eulogists for Bush at the service in the Washington National Cathedral. Others are former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and presidential biographer Jon Meacham.
Simpson first met George H.W. Bush at a U.S. Senate intersection of their fathers in 1962. That was the year that Milward Simpson was elected to the Senate from Wyoming, and Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was leaving the Senate from Connecticut. Milward Simpson was assigned to the office that Prescott Bush was vacating, and the sons met during that changeover.
Their friendship — really a four-way friendship of George and Barbara Bush and Al and Ann Simpson — deepened during the years when Bush served as vice president.
“We went to Glacier National Park when he was vice president, the four of us,” Simpson recalled. “We had more fun, hiking and motor boating.”
There were trips to the Bush compound at Kennebunkport, Maine, and bird hunting trips to south Texas. At the Bush home in Texas, a bedroom was reserved for the Simpsons, simply called, “Al and Ann’s room.”
There were lively times, playing horseshoes and shooting pool at the White House, or there were New Year’s Eve celebrations that the Bushes and Simpsons enjoyed together for 10 years.
There were also somber times, like the night at the White House shared by the two couples when Bush was about to pull the trigger on sending U.S. troops to begin the first Gulf War in 1990.
As a young Navy pilot shot down in World War II, Bush anguished with the decision “because he knew the horrors of war,” Simpson said.
On the the last night of the Bush presidency in January of 1993, the two couples spent the night together at the White House — and had a little fun on the roof.
“The four of us were out walking the dog, and a beautiful moist snow was coming down,” Simpson said. “We went inside, and the president said, ‘Doesn’t that remind you of snowballs?’”
It did, Simpson agreed.
So President Bush called the Secret Service and said, “We’re going up on the roof to throw some snowballs.”
“Barbara and Ann were up there, too,” Al said. All they could offer was, “You boys are crazy.”
“Yeah, but this is fun,” said the president of the United States.
Of Bush 41, Simpson said he left behind a record of significant domestic and foreign policy achievement. On the domestic front, Simpson said the president’s policy achievements were “full of substance,” including the Americans with Disabilities Act and amendments to the Clean Air Act.
Bush also presided over the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
“The wall came down,” Simpson noted. “But he refused to talk about it. He said, ‘Call Gorbachev. He did it.’ He was all about manners and civility and kindness.”