George and Barbara Bush belonged to and were active members of a Houston church for more than 50 years. The rector of that church, Reverend Russell Jones Levenson, Jr., believes he was invited into private moments with these public individuals so he could serve as a witness: a witness to observe, and a witness to tell. With never-before shared correspondence, experiences, and personal stories, Levenson offers new insight into the Bushes’ wit and wisdom; their commitment to family and friends; their tireless desire to bless the lives of others; and their steadfast loyalty to their church, their faith, and their God. Before embarking on writing this book on faith, Levenson sought and received the blessing of all the Bush children, including the 43rd president. Readers will laugh, cry, and be inspired as Levenson ponders how and why he was put in this unique pastoral position, asking questions like, What on earth was I doing reading the sports section of the paper with the forty-first president, his cabinet member Brent Scowcroft, and a Chinese official on a breezy morning at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine? Levenson writes with emotion about being with President Bush and Barbara Bush as they each took their last breaths on this earth. He then describes in full detail the surreal experience of planning a state funeral and giving a eulogy with other presidents in the front row. This is book is for readers who yearn for our public officials to serve with faith and integrity like the Bushes. But above all else, this book shows how powerful it is when world leaders are humbled before the power that rests above all powers.
I have to be honest. I didn’t vote for George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992 in my first presidential election. But, as I’ve found, I often find that even if I didn’t vote for a person, later on I have grown to respect them as a person and their life of service and maybe wish I had made a different choice in the voting booth. In short, I come to admire them much more when they are not politicking and making decisions that affect my life personally. Witness to Dignity: The Life and Faith of George H.W. and Barbara Bush by Russell Levenson, Jr. (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) is a memoir of the pastor and his time with the 41st President and his wife, Barbara. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my respect for the former president and his wife has grown over the years through their actions and through the other biographies I’ve read.
This is not a full-on chronological biography of the Bush patriarch and matriarch. Pastor Levenson became pastor of the Houston church to which the Bushes belonged for more than 50 years. He came along well after President Bush had left office. He was there for the last decade of both Barbara and George’s lives.
Even if you’re not particularly conservative/Republican/whatever you want to call it these days, you have to admire the love match between George and Barbara Bush, whose marriage lasted more than 70 years. George and Barbara attended an Episcopalian church, but Barbara wasn’t baptized into the faith until late in her life. She said she wanted to do it on her on time, in her own terms, without feeling pressured to join simply because she attended the church.
Levenson shares some of his experiences with his life with the Bushes, including trips to Kennebunkport in the summer and meeting various heads of state, members of presidential administrations, and celebrities. But this book is not about name-dropping. It’s about George and Barbara Bush’s faith, and how they lived it in the last decade of their lives. The pastor shares some conversations 41 had with him about his Christian faith, and if you get the audio version of the book, you’ll actually get to listen to the pastor’s eulogies for both Barbara and President Bush’s funerals.
I’m glad to know that Levenson got the approval of the Bush children before going ahead with this book, because it is rather personal, as each person’s faith is. Yet the book also shows how the Bush couple lived their faith, set an example for the generations that followed, and how when the end of their time on this earth came, they were ready to join their beloved daughter Robin in heaven (Robin died of leukemia at just 3 years old and was never far from either Barbara or George’s mind, especially in their later years).
This is an inspirational read or listen of a couple who happened to be in the public eye yet lived their lives just like the rest of us. If you are a person of faith, I recommend this book.
For more in-depth biographies on the former president, try:
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