GHWB, WASPER

 

A friend forwarded the following from Greenwich County Day School, regarding President Bush:

Honoring President George H.W. Bush
GCDS Class of 1937
From Adam Rohdie, Headmaster

On November 30, America and the global community lost a leader and statesman whose life is a testament to the power of service and an enduring commitment to encourage others to make the world better—both now and for the future. Today we honor the life of George Herbert Walker Bush, and remember him for his devoted service to his country—as a President, international diplomat, and war hero. At GCDS, we also look back to the time when as a young student he showed so much promise.

In 1937, GCDS Headmaster G. Denis Meadows described George H.W. Bush’s achievements in a brief but informative letter of recommendation addressed to the Director of Admissions at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. It read: “Report on Walker Bush. At the top of his class, Walker Bush is a boy of excellent character. Conspicuously straightforward and reliable. Superior all-around ability in both studies and athletics. Consistently industrious. Attractive personality.”

After attending GCDS and Phillips Academy, George H.W. Bush enlisted as a naval aviator and became, at eighteen years old, the youngest pilot in the U.S. Navy. He flew in World War II and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his volunteer engagement in combat. In the fall of 1945, he continued his education at Yale University, where he majored in economics, received a Phi Beta Kappa key for his strong academic record, and was captain of the baseball team. Following a career in the oil industry, Bush went on to a life of public service, culminating in the most esteemed leadership position in the world.

In May 1997, President Bush returned to Country Day to receive the GCDS Distinguished Alumnus Award. While speaking at the Sixtieth Reunion Dinner for his class of 1937, President Bush reflected: “We got a good education here, a very good one. So many of the values learned right here came in handy after we left school. When I was president, I often thought back to the advice given us by Headmaster Miner and Headmaster Meadows…. At the Philadelphia Summit on Volunteerism concluded a month ago, I thought back to this place and to family. I realized once again how lucky I was to be privileged, not in the material things but in the values that I was privileged to learn from teachers here and from my parents.”

It mentions that Bush was “consistently industrious.” I have had the opportunity to occasionally observe Ivy League and rich WASPERs (White Anglo Saxon Protestant Episcopal Republican) directly, but am not of either class of them. Experience has indicated that real WASPs are generally industrious, even if rich. And, they tend to have an acute sense of propriety and tend to be frugal and not flashy. 

I had the good fortune to spend the summer of 1981 working for Walter Cronkite at his summer home in Edgartown. Mostly, I sailed with him and while doing so got to meet some intriguing and notable people including the late Jayne and Frank Ikard. Walter’s daughter, Kathy, was to married the son Frank Ikard and his first wife.  Anyway,  I’ll never forget sitting with a few guests of the Cronkite’s, including Jayne Ikard, during cocktails one evening. She was talking about someone and made reference a person as “NOCD.” I later found out that was an acronym for Not of Our Class Dear. I would be described by the late Ms. Ikard as being NOCD.  But kept my mouth shut that summer and listened to the conversations around me which taught me a lot about the upper class.

Bush was both Ivy League — HYP Ivy League, specifically — and definitely a WASPER. I’d venture to say that the two were closely related back in Bush’s university days, unlike today. There are now a lot of posers, and people with money, but not necessarily industrious with attractive personalities. Just some thoughts on a gray, wet, nasty Sunday morning. — BC

33 Comments on "GHWB, WASPER"

  1. Mark Russell | December 2, 2018 at 7:23 pm |

    WASPER is somewhat of a contradiction in terms. Technically, Episcopalians (the E in WASPER) do not consider themselves to be Protestant (the P in WASPER). In fact, WASP itself may be somewhat incorrect owing to the fact that most of the “P’s” were actually “E’s.”

  2. I am concededly originally Canadian Anglican, but have never met an Episcopalian who considered him/herself not to be Protestant. Is that an Anglo-Catholic thing?

  3. Also, the anecdote about Jane Ikard and NOCD reflects a grotesque pretentiousness totally unlike GHWB—an apt illustration of the timelessness of moneyed posers.

  4. Mark Russell, it’s a fairly even split between Presbyterian and Episcopalian, I believe.

    RIP, Poppy. We don’t have many PLU left.

  5. Trace Bearden | December 3, 2018 at 8:46 am |

    I didn’t get the point of this story until I read Jane Ikard’s bio (having never heard of her). She was no WASPER, but rather a social climber of the first order. NOCD could easily have been applied to her. Thanks, BC.

  6. Trevor Jones | December 3, 2018 at 9:07 am |

    I agree about Jane. Most of the WASPs I know would very much think like she does, but never say it – especially in front of others.
    @BC I think there needs to be a story about the people and experiences you had while on the Cape with Walt, that would be amazing.

  7. whiskeydent | December 3, 2018 at 9:29 am |

    @BC
    I clicked the Jayne Ikard link and it took me down a rabbit hole into 1950-60’s D.C. society, Austin politics, and much more about people I know of or actually knew. I won’t bore y’all with those details, but it was a fun trip in the time machine.

    Along the way, I learned that Ikard was Catholic and started her long journalism career at the not-so-glamarous Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. She was NOCD herself, in other words. I wonder if the comment was in jest. Cynical politicos, myself included, often crack jokes in that way. Can you add any insight?

  8. Trevor Jones,

    As a minor point of clarification, Edgartown is actually on the Vineyard, but you’re close.

    I’ll say for now that Walter Cronkite was the person people saw on TV delivering the nightly news and just who they thought he was. The “Commodore” was a Yachtsmen and Gentlemen. He was an excellent navigator, but not a Republican or Episcopalian. 😉

    Cheers, BC

  9. whiskeydent | December 3, 2018 at 9:38 am |

    I see that Trace Bearden raised the issue while I was typing mine.

  10. Interesting (???) post. Not sure what we’re to make of all this–firstly that someone who was so obviously herself “NOCD” would use the phrase in reference to others. At the very least it’s funny.

    As for Cronkite: wasn’t he from rural Missouri? Or Texas or Oklahoma? Did he even graduate from college?

    As for Bush himself: it’s not like his family were on the Mayflower or one of the founding families of Connecticut. His roots were quite humble–mostly Midwestern, right? Missouri, Ohio, Illinois and so on. Going way back, a poor Illinois farm boy gets a job as office assistant in a dry goods wholesale shop somewhere in Missouri…and off they went.

    A Rochester, NY schoolteacher (no college degree) on the other side. Both sides of the family were littered with clergymen, railroad mechanics, and salesmen.

    Which goes to show you: behind every “WASPER,” there’s probably a history that’s less than regal. This is America, after all.

    Industriousness applies to lots of kinds of people–including people who aren’t especially “WASPy.” The phrase “generally industrious” applies to most people who are successful.

    Based on what little I know, Bush succeeded in politics in large part because of his “attractive personality”–his temperament. Demeanor. Calm, pleasant, encouraging, optimistic. Once upon a time, this, in addition to good looks, was deemed about 90% of (what was referred to as) “character.”

  11. Mark Russell | December 3, 2018 at 10:26 am |

    Not being an Episcopalian, I probably should have followed my normal rule about not discussing religion or politics online. My information had come from conversations with episcopal friends. After your response, I did a cursory search and found that Episcopalians have wrestled with this question over the years. It seems the definition of Protestant is at the heart of the issue. If Protestant means not Catholic, then Epicopals are Protestant. If Protestant means having Reformation origin, then they are not.
    Forgive me for offering a non-expert opinion on the subject.

  12. @SE
    I think you’re right that Cronkite was from Missouri. I’m certain he went to college at the University of Texas at Austin. I read his rather cheesy Daily Texan sports stories while I worked there myself in the 80’s. I met him once briefly, and he was happy to hear that I was a former Texan staffer. If I remember correctly, he did not graduate because he left early to go cover WW II.

  13. SE,

    The Mayflower? The Rosevelt’s and other old-line WASP’s didn’t have ancestors aboard that boat. The Mayflower connection is for New Englanders to be impressed over. 😉

    GHWB and Cronkite were less than ten years apart in age and both men of character. But, yes, from different backgrounds and educational attainment. Perhaps Cronkite was not born as what might be deemed to be a full-on WASP. Come to think of it though, his funeral was held at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church at 325 Park Avenue. So, perhaps there was an affiliation with the E.

    If anyone has about seven minutes to spare and wants to get a good sense of who Walter Cronkite was off screen, I suggest you listen to the Remembrance by a close friend of his. A link to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMxAA7n4j4s

    Cheers, BC

  14. Well, I was largely wrong. Cronkite was born in Missouri and lived there until he was 10. However, his family then moved to Houston, and he matriculated through its public schools. He left UT in 1936 to focus on journalism. He did okay despite the lack of a degree.

  15. Not to nitpick, but both Roosevelt and George HW Bush were Mayflower descendants, and in fact distant cousins descended from Francis Cooke.

  16. DCG,

    Nitpicking is welcomed when providing clarification and correction. If we are talking about FDR, was the Mayflower connection through his mother’s family? I assumed that since the Roosevelt’s are of Dutch ancestry (Franklin and his cousin Theodore were members of the Holand Society of New York.), I presumed there was not a Mayflower connection. But, I stand corrected and would be interested in the link to it.

    Cheers, BC

  17. @BC and SE- George H.W. Bush descended from Mayflower Pilgrims John Tilley, Francis Cooke, Henry Samson and John Howland.

    FDR’s Mayflower ancestors were Isaac Allerton, John Howland, Richard Warren, Degory Priest, John Tilley and Francis Cooke. Cousin Teddy, though, had no Mayflower lines. The two Roosevelts and the Bushes also descended from King Edward I, King Henry III plus a number of Surety Barons who signed the Magna Carta.

    You never know. Katharine Hepburn, Hugh Hefner, Marilyn Monroe, Julia Child, Sarah Palin and 30+ million also have Mayflower lines.

  18. Vern Trotter | December 3, 2018 at 2:16 pm |

    As a lifelong member, I can attest that the correct name is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the US. So much for that.

    GHWB enlisted in the Navy right after Andover. He was shot down over the Pacific when 18 years old. Hard to imagine for young people today to be able to handle that but in the past many did. One of his siblings is a friend of mine and I have met the others. I wish the family my sincere sympathy.

  19. Vern is correct. Via media. Of course there are different leanings of high church and low church Episcopalians. I am junior warden of a 200 year old parish and we are rather low church. Although many of our parishioners came from the Catholic tradition, the majority of our parishioners definitely lean much more toward Protestantism than Catholicism.

  20. So I should have written “direct descendants” or “remotely direct descendants” or some such. I mean, at some point the family tree thing becomes silly. If we go with “distant”, then doesn’t a substantial percentage of the American population qualify? I’ll stand edited and corrected, but the Bradfords and Brewsters must chuckle.

  21. It’s interesting–what comes to mind when certain modifiers, labels, and descriptions (including acronyms) are used. Growing up, I affiliated “WASPy” with a certain sort of character–serious, sober-minded, solemn. Even slightly curmudgeonly. And, of course, in terms of clothing, preppy–but not the frivolous stuff. A football coach of mine comes to mind–graduate of VMI. Athletic, great dresser. Crew cut. Never smiled. Did not suffer fools. Beloved.

  22. “If we go with “distant”, then doesn’t a substantial percentage of the American population qualify?”

    Agreed, ancestry is a great way to bring people together, it’s pretty silly as a way to set people apart. All that’s needed to take someone down a peg is to trace a different line or go back just a bit further.

  23. @S.E. – The Mayflower Society requires ‘lineal descent’. When you say ‘direct descent’, I’m not sure how that differs. ‘Distant descent’, though, does not qualify and why would it? You may be thinking of a more restrictive criterion such as the rules of male primogeniture for membership in the Cincinnati.

  24. Vern Trotter | December 3, 2018 at 8:00 pm |

    Yes, the Cincinnati is likely the most restrictive. There are 14 subsidiary societies ( one for each of the original colonies, plus France.) There is a slight variation among some for membership. GHWB was an honorary member.

  25. Trevor Jones | December 4, 2018 at 4:22 am |

    @BC as a proud Massachusettan, I’m embarrassed I messed that up. Too much time away from my beloved state, I guess. Anyway, I’m glad to hear that. He gives off the impression that he’s the same type of man – decent, upstanding, courteous – all the time, when the cameras are on or off. Exactly what I expect Mr. Rogers to have been like…

  26. CJ van Schagen Meijer | December 4, 2018 at 10:57 am |

    The Roosevelts were definetly of Dutch origin, although some may have married into families of the decendants of the Mayflower. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt_(name)

  27. Per my dad’s research, most of my ancestors escaped from Scotland and Ireland and littered the South and Southwest as (in no particular order) farmers, river runners (pirates), distillers, military officers, Presbyterian ministers, Texas colonists (debt dodgers), one money launderer for Lafitte, and one plantation owner who chillingly doled out 56 slaves in his will. Dad counted 36 direct and indirect ancestors who fought for the South (he claimed one was the last commander of Hood’s Brigade) and none for the North. We are more than the sum of our ancestors, I hope.

  28. @CJ van Schagen Meijer – Two of FDR’s Mayflower lines go through his paternal grandmother, Mary Rebecca Aspinwall. The others all go through his mother, Sara Delano.

  29. A bit of a tangent, but I thought people who read Ivy Style might be interested in a George H.W. Bush campaign moment: he was accused of being a “Brooks Brothers Republican” and laughed it off by shaking his head, saying “no, no, you’ve got it all wrong” and opening his jacket to reveal the label: J. Press.

  30. CJ van Schagen Meijer | December 4, 2018 at 3:13 pm |

    Robert – two sides of the same coin back then.

  31. Hi all,

    Love the spirited debate, new to the site but found this discussion interesting. I would say I am probably as traditionally ‘WASP’ (the old New York kind, carry name of 1636 settler of Hartford) as one can really be, I would drop some more credentials but that feels a little silly. I just want to point out that religion has very little to do with anything in the reduced ‘Wasp’ high society these days, and it never was that important because it was never a self-identified thing, but the most traditional kind has historically been in fact Episcopal. Nowadays lineage still matters but people with the right manners and values of most background are welcome… mercenary social climbers are what are disliked, and vulgar new money attitudes/styles. One good example of a non-protestant group well embraced by Wasp society are the Cubans, of course in particular rich ones, who are very prominent in that group (particularly in Palm Beach). Few in the ‘set’ really care very much about religion, at least not when it comes to club admission and the kind.

    Just my two cents. My fiancee’s family is close with Bushes and she always remarks on how nice of a family they are.

  32. Hi All, I’ve been away from the thread for years. To the question of FDR and Mayflower descent, it can be difficult to get these things right as lists you see published online are often contradictory. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants publishes books but much of this information does not seem to be online.

    I will refer you to Nathaniel Philbrick’s book “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War” which states that, “…Others from Leiden included Philip de la Noye, whose French [presumably Huguenot] surname was eventually Anglicized to Delano and whose descendants included future US President Franlkin Delano Roosevelt.” This passage is with regard to those who arrived on the Forture, the second boat to Plymouth Plantation. So yes, FDR was Dutch but not exclusively – these dissenting church members were in exile in Leiden, Holland but not Dutch. Also on the Fortune was Jonathan Brewster, eldest son of William and ancestor to Kingman Brewster, one of the architects of opening up Yale and friend to GHWB. Kingman’s grandaughter, Jordana Brewster, of Fast and the Furious Fame is also part Brazilian. His other granddaughter Isabella Brewster is married to former NBA basketball player, Baron Davis.

    I have lost the thread on GHWB here and appreciate his service and will miss him. It is also worth pointing out that his family is still Waspy in Kennebunkport lifestyle, dedication to service or “noblise noblige,” and legacy admissions to Yale. But quite diverse, as well. It includes Mexican-Americans and one of Ralph Lauren’s sons. Or you could argue all of this is the ever expanding definition of whiteness. And GHWB, while patrician by American standards, sill had some humble ancestors, whose roots disappear into the Midwest, but eventually converted to the Episcopal Church and moved East once they made their pile on the frontier.

    The point I am trying to make, and many of you already know, is that there are very few true WASPS left – save Tad Friend of the New Yorker who lives in Brooklyn.(!) Most of us have melted a bit and that’s probably to the good.

    Thank you CC for keeping this site alive.

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