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'He Has Our Heart': Houston Remembers Their Celebrity Neighbor, George H.W. Bush

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President George H.W. Bush spent much of his adult life in Washington, D.C., after growing up in New England. But after he graduated from college, he moved his family to Texas. He called home for six decades. Houston Public Media's Andrew Schneider spoke with residents about how they felt after the loss of a man they considered a friend and neighbor.

ANDREW SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: At Houston's Memorial Park, residents were still absorbing the news, having only learned of Bush's death when they woke this morning. Stephanie Keathley's reaction was typical.

STEPHANIE KEATHLEY: He was amazing president and part of Texas. And he's - as a Texan, he has our heart. And he's lived a great life, an amazing husband and a great role model of what a father should be.

SCHNEIDER: Preston Peery works in an office within sight of Bush's home in west Houston.

PRESTON PEERY: It was quite an honor to have him around - him and then the Bushes in general - to see them around the city, to see them at games - Astros games and everything - to, you know, have a, you know, basically, a living legend right there.

SCHNEIDER: Bush suffered for years from vascular Parkinsonism, a condition that kept him confined to a wheelchair. He'd been hospitalized multiple times for pneumonia and other infections. But, up until his wife Barbara's death earlier this year, the two were highly active in the life of Houston.

FRED FORTHUBER: He and Barbara Bush were just fantastic here for the nation and the community here.

SCHNEIDER: Fred Forthuber has lived in the Houston area for 20 years.

FORTHUBER: I was at baseball games where he was there and football games where he was there - so with the Texans and the Astros. And it was fantastic. I mean, everybody, you know, got on their feet when they saw Barbara and George. They were just an institution here in Houston.

SCHNEIDER: It was in Houston that Bush entered politics following a successful career in the oil industry, and it was here that he launched his 1988 run for the presidency. Sean Theriault was jogging near the Bush monument in Houston's Sesquicentennial Park.

SEAN THERIAULT: He's one of these Houston celebrities, right? So when there's a big football game or a big basketball game or a big arts event, he was always there. He and Barbara were always in the front row. And it was great to see them come in, and the entire audience would erupt in applause.

SCHNEIDER: Two of Bush's last major public appearances were at Houston sporting events. In February 2017, he took the field at Houston's NRG Stadium to perform the coin toss at Super Bowl 51. And that October, with Houston still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, he and his son, President George W. Bush, threw the first pitch of Game 5 of the World Series at Houston's Minute Maid Park. Ambassador Chase Untermeyer worked alongside Bush on and off for decades, ending with an office just down the hall from Bush's post-presidential workplace in Houston.

CHASE UNTERMEYER: Truly, thousands and thousands of not tens of thousands of our fellow Houstonians have gotten to see our hometown president.

SCHNEIDER: Native Houstonian Peter Roussel worked as Bush's press secretary in the 1960s and '70s and considered Bush a lifelong friend.

PETER ROUSSEL: When the great American composer George Gershwin passed away, the noted American novelist John O'Hara commented on his passing this way. I heard that George Gershwin has passed away, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to. I would say that's exactly the way I feel about George Bush.

SCHNEIDER: Bush will be buried next week on the grounds of the Bush Presidential Library in nearby College Station, Texas alongside his wife Barbara and his daughter Robin.

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Schneider in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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