HL Overnighter with Bushes is `storybook experience,' former neighbor testifies
Byline: Donnie Radcliffe
Credit: Washington Post
SO STAR TRIBUNE Mpls.-St. Paul Newspaper of the Twin
Origin: Washington, D.C.
LP There is a story - not apocryphal - about the night in January 1967 when George and Barbara Bush's furniture arrived in Washington from Houston. It was snowing as the moving van pulled up at the Bushes' Hillbrook Lane home about midnight. The movers unloaded the mattresses and bedding but not much more before the Bushes called a halt, invited them to spend the night and sent everybody off to bed.
TX Nobody remembers the movers' names, but they surely rank first among equals in that exclusive group of Bush insiders on social Washington's much coveted A-list. Twenty-two years later, when invitations to dinner or a movie at the White House are as common as a Washington rumor, overnighting with the Bushes is the new measure of status. Guests are not necessarily famous or rich or even powerful, though many are all three. Most are family members or Bush friends - usually old friends, occasionally new friends but always loyal friends. Friends such as Kentucky horse breeder Will Farish, Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub, Pennzoil executive committee chairman Baine Kerr, fellow Yale Skull and Bones member Thomas W. Moseley, and childhood friend FitzGerald Bemiss - to name a few. Were there such a thing as an A-plus list, theirs would be among the names on it, for they, not kings or presidents, have been sleeping royally in the Queen's and Lincoln bedrooms during the seven months the Bushes have been living in the White House. And if those second-floor bedrooms were filled, they moved up to the third floor family quarters. "It's a storybook experience," said Shirley Pettis, the former California representative who was a Bush neighbor here for 10 years. The Bushes invited Pettis and her husband, Ben Roberson, to stay with them during a trip to Washington in May. Shown to the Queen's Bedroom, where five queens have slept in Andrew Jackson's handsome four-poster bed, they were overwhelmed by the historic surroundings. "Every place you turn there is a sense of your forebears," said Pettis, equally impressed by how thoroughly her hostess had done her research. "Bar makes you feel you must know everything about this wonderful house, and because she knows every piece and can tell its story, the whole floor comes alive." Pampered by what Pettis called one of the world's most gracious household staffs, guests find all the amenities of a luxury hotel - and then some. There are heavy terrycloth robes in the bathrooms, crisp white stationery engraved with "The President's House" on the desks, bouquets of fresh flowers everywhere and the best security system in the world. Guests are also faced with such big decisions as whether to unpack their own bags or let the staff do it; what to order for breakfast (menu cards are left in their rooms each evening); and where to eat it - in their rooms or the East Sitting Hall. Pettis and her husband chose the latter and were enjoying the morning sun when the president joined them for a cup of tea. "He came romping down the hall. Fortunately, I was wearing my prettiest peignoir," said an amused Pettis, who remembers that same spontaneous nature from when she and the late California representative Jerry Pettis lived next door to another freshman congressman, then-Texas Rep. George Bush, on Palisade Lane. There are tales of other unexpected encounters. One houseguest, awakened by gentle but persistent tapping on the door, heard Bush outside inquiring, "Is anybody up in there?" Another said it wasn't unusual for the president to casually warn that he was taking someone through the room "so make sure you don't have anything sitting around." Some guests - like Houston friends David and Ann Peake and Baine and Mildred Kerr - have been invited to spend the night after a state * dinner. Sadruddin Aga Khan, a former United Nations official and tennis friend to whom Bush turned recently in the current hostage crisis, stayed the night that Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was an official visitor in June. Invited to stay after other state dinners were country singer Crystal Gayle; Steve Fisher, coach of the national college basketball champion University of Michigan Wolverines; and Bush cousins John and Shelley Jansing of New York. Another recent guest was New York socialite Mildred Hilson, the Bushes' Waldorf Towers neighbor when George Bush was ambassador to the United Nations in the early '70s. Barbara Bush's favorite interior designer, Mark Hampton of New York, has stayed, too. So have all the Bushes' children and grandchildren, most of the Bushes' siblings, and many of their nieces and nephews. The Bushes are similarly generous with their invitations to Camp David. For the unathletic, the pace is relaxed; for others it's highly competitive, as when Bush invited Pam Shriver and a group for a recent weekend of tennis. Bush also likes "wally ball," a corrupted version of volleyball played on a squash court. Even before Marine One, the presidential helicopter, lands, Bush, sometimes with his grandchildren in tow, starts marshaling the troops to suit up and report for jogging. The White House, by contrast, is a bit more formal. Everyone is on his best behavior, and those who aren't can expect a refresher course. At dinner time recently when the First Lady realized that her twin granddaughters, Jenna and Barbara Bush (George W. and Laura Bush's children), were not at the table, she asked the butler if he knew where they were. In the bowling alley, he informed her, waiting to be served. They didn't wait much longer. Mrs. Bush ordered them back to the family quarters by sending word that Bush grandchildren do not eat in the bowling alley, they eat with the family in the dining room. She also warned the White House staff to beware of young charm artists.
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