Locals who knew President George H.W. Bush well recall his kindness and generosity

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As the nation bids farewell to former President George Herbert Walker Bush, some locals who knew him remember Mr. Bush as kind, generous and at times light-hearted.

"This is a trip with President Bush, you can see how informal and casual he was when you were on the plane with him, and when you were part of that group to travel with him,” Scott Sewell said, as he pointed to a photo of himself with the then president.

"They were just open, sweet, nice people,” Roger Villere, former Louisiana GOP Chairman, said.

Mr. Bush’s ascension to the Oval Office had ties to New Orleans. In 1988, Bush won the GOP presidential nomination during the National Republican Convention in the Superdome.

Sewell said he knew and supported Bush long before he received his party’s coveted political prize.

“Everybody said he could never be elected. Most of the people in Louisiana supported Bob Dole,” Sewell said.

Sewell served as State Chairman for Bush’s La. presidential campaign and has a collection of photos with Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush.

“That was in the Naval Observatory and that would have been a little bit before the election,” Sewell said of one of the photos in his office.

Villere said he first encountered the future president during the GOP convention.

“I met George and Barbara there,” Villere said “When he got the [nomination], I can just remember it was the biggest party at a convention, I had never been to one before.”

After Mr. Bush won the election, Sewell was part of his transition team and later served twice as an assistant cabinet secretary in Mr. Bush’s administration.

"He was very genial, very decent, I don’t remember him ever raising his voice in meetings,” Sewell said.

Mr. Bush continued to have an affinity for New Orleans long after he snared the presidential nomination.

"The submarine commander that rescued him from World War II was a New Orleans resident, passed away not too long ago, so he had a lot of connections here,” Sewell said.

"He’s been a real friend to the City of New Orleans, of course, him and Bill Clinton went together and raised a lot of money after Katrina,” added Villere.

Villere also fondly recalled a more recent trip he made to the Bush’s estate in Kennebunkport, Maine.

“I was invited to go because first of all we were friends, and second of all, I was a vice-chairman of the RNC, so as one of the vice chairmen they invited us to attend. So we got there, they were so gracious,” Villere said. “He was in a wheelchair because he had hurt his neck, but he had just I think the year before jumped out of the airplane for his 90th birthday.”

Villere did not expect what happened next.

“He gave us this beautiful tie with the parachutes because he wanted to jump again,” Villere said with a smile. “And he says,'Listen, I want you to ask my wife if she’ll let me jump out the plane for my 95th birthday.' I said, ‘Oh, Mr. President you’re going to get me in trouble’ and she heard him talking to me and she said, ‘What are you two cooking up?’ And I said ‘He wants me to ask you about jumping out the plane,’ she said ‘You better jump out the picture here.’ She said ‘No, he’s in a wheelchair.'"

Sewell hopes more of his former boss’ legacy gets attention, especially what he accomplished internationally.

“I think one of the things that are most overlooked about his presidency and the success of his presidency was the efforts he took during the fall of the Berlin Wall and creating democracies in Eastern Europe,” Sewell said.

Both Sewell and Villere spoke of how the elder Bush would joke.

“Whenever we flew into, or went to a situation where there was tension, or pressure, or that kind of thing, he always had some corny joke that would throw you off that he would pop at the last minute,” Sewell said. “The kinds of things that you would see in the bubble gum wrappers, they were that bad, but they were so bad they were funny.”

"He told really good jokes, people didn’t know that,” Villere said.

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