“Destiny and Power,” Jon Meacham’s surprisingly vivid biography of former President George HW Bush, is Shakespearean in its depiction of family, power and public service. It also briefly described an incident from one of the great days in the life of 10-year-old Richard Press.
My beloved uncle, State Senator and New Haven City Court Judge Harold E. Alprovis, in 1948 was a political crony of then Connecticut Republican Finance Chairman and later US Senator, Prescott Bush, who invited my uncle, with me in tow and a gaggle of politicians, to the Princeton baseball game at Yale Field. It was also the day Babe Ruth came to New Haven to gift his memoirs to Yale.
Prescott’s son, George HW, familiarly tagged “Poppy,” was first baseman and captain of the Yale team. He accepted the manuscript from Ruth at a temporary microphone set up on the pitcher’s mound. It had rained all morning, but with Babe’s appearance the sun came out. Ruth was already frail, stricken with the cancer that would kill him three months later. The bleachers were loaded with local kids, many of them my fifth-grade classmates from Beecher School. Republican Mayor William Celentano, part of our crowd, presented Ruth with a certificate proclaiming lifetime membership in New Haven Little League. Ruth sadly responded, croaking tortured words into the microphone. After the ceremony he donned a cream-colored Ascot cap and took a seat with us along the first-base line, kindly signing my program before leaving after a few innings.
After the game (which Yale won), Mr. Bush introduced us to his son Poppy, who autographed my program right underneath Babe Ruth’s signature, a misbegotten treasure lost to the ages.
Meacham’s treatise recalls Poppy’s early married years in New Haven, a GI war hero gallantly completing his Phi Beta Kappa Yale degree in two-and-a-half years. Paul Press, my dad, habitually an obsessive raconteur of celebrities he befriended in and around the York Street store, recalled the era in a magazine interview. “Poppy Bush was a very nice man,” he said. “In the ’40s his wife Barbara was working at the Yale Co-op on York Street. I ran into her so often that she teased me I never invite her for lunch.”
When Bush was running for vice president in 1980, he gave a speech on the Yale campus that was interrupted by a heckler who accused him of being a “Brooks Brothers Republican.” Bush opened up his jacket alleging his suit was actually by J.Press. None of us Presses, nor any of the sales staff, ever recalled his patronage. Biograper Meacham clarifies the issue, noting, “his suits (42L, 38 waist) came from a Washington clothier, Arthur A. Adler; his shirts (which Bush, in a phrase that betrayed his Greenwich origins, unironically called ‘shirtings’ in private) from Ascot Chang, a Hong Kong tailor.”
A 1989 syndicated article in the New York Times provided further detail: “Bush likes his two and three-button suits by Norman Hilton and Southwick, which he buys at Arthur Adler in Washington or Norman Ditto in Houston. In ties, he alternates between neat foulards mostly by Robert Talbott.”
“Destiny and Power” can be comfortably digested by Democrats or Republicans, evenly distributing the triumph and disappointment of times past. The relationship between Reagan and his vice president, together with rivalry of their wives, is vastly entertaining. Unflattering references to Cheney and Rumsfeld have been duly reported. Make up your own mind about the Freudian dialogue hinted between #41 and #43.
George Herbert Walker Bush, 20th-century gentleman and public servant, never regretted articulating the famous credo that cost him his job: “Read my lips.” — RICHARD PRESS