By Emily Proskine Hurd
While the country mourns the loss of President George H.W. Bush and fondly remembers his service, I think back on a chance encounter in April 1991, during my eighth-grade spring break, when I spent an unforgettable afternoon with our gracious, down-to-earth sitting President.
President Bush was an avid sports fisherman and chasing tarpon and bonefish in the Florida Keys was one of his favorite pastimes. I could relate as my dad and brothers would spend long days during our Chicago school breaks chasing the same fish in the same spots. I would occasionally opt for sunbathing by the pool at Cheeca Lodge, which is what I did that day in April.
President Bush, who had planned to be out on the flats that day, was turned back by rough seas. Meanwhile, poolside, hearing the buzz that the President was coming in for golf, I threw on my jean shorts and headed barefoot to the course. An eager crowd gathered, and, moments later, a motorcade rolled in. Secret Service jumped out, surveyed the scene, and opened the door of one of the black SUVs. Out stepped the President of the United States and his Secretary of the Treasury, Nicholas Brady.
I was surprised as the President walked right over to me and asked if I had some spare time. Sure, I said. Will you be my caddy? he asked. Knowing equally little about golf and politics, I set off with him.
Over nine holes the President and I had an easy conversation — we discussed my hometown, Wilmette, Illinois, his grandson in Texas who was my same age, which golf club to use on which hole, his two lost balls, and our mutual love of the Keys. Operation Desert Storm did not come up.
Back at home, I was briefly famous. When the radio personality asked me at the end of my five-minute mystery guest interview if I was a Republican or Democrat, the Chicagoland listeners heard me cover the phone with my hand and ask: “Mom, am I a Republican or Democrat?” Almost 30 years later and after my own foray into local politics, I can answer that question on my own. But when remembering the late 41st President, it just doesn’t matter. George H.W. Bush will be remembered as a great President and I will remember the fun we had that day in the Florida Keys.
The author, at right, with President George H.W. Bush, Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, and another lucky first-time caddy