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Hartselle man had chance meeting with 41st president

December 7, 2018

HARTSELLE, Ala. (AP) — When Bob Jaques of Hartselle heard Nov. 30 that President George H.W. Bush had died, he said his memory immediately flashed back to March 25, 1993, in Houston.

Jaques, the former general manager of Young Door Co., said he was in Texas for a millwork trade convention where Bush was the keynote speaker.

“When he died, it made me think of the time I met him in Houston and what a privilege that was, even though we only talked a few minutes,” said Jaques, 78, who has lived in Hartselle since 1973. “He was very cordial, very down to Earth. He seemed very interested in what we were doing at the convention.”

Jaques said he took the 1987 book “Looking Forward” written by Bush and co-author Victor Gold to the convention with him.

“He came to the exhibit hall near our booth, and I walked up to him, and we started talking,” Jaques said. “He very graciously signed my book. . . . I had no idea our photo was being taken.”

He has the photo and pen that Bush signed the book with framed in his Hartselle home.

A few years after meeting Bush in Houston, Jaques’ love for aviation connected him again with the nation’s 41st president.

“I’m an aviation historian and a Navy veteran,” he said. “Bush was in the Navy in World War II. I commissioned an aviation artist friend of mine (Ray Waddey of Tennessee) to do a painting of Bush’s TBM (torpedo bomber). I wanted a combat scene. It came out so well that I contacted the Bush Library and talked with the director (to find out) if I could get the painting autographed. He told me to send it and ‘we’ll see.’ . . . I wrote Bush a letter with the painting and asked him to put his years of service in World War II and his squadron on it. I assured him I would never sell it for commercial value.”

Jaques calls the signed work one of his most prized possessions.

Jaques also received a handwritten note from President Bush after Jaques sent him a copy of a land grant from Kennebunkport, Maine, where the Bush family owned property.

Another time, Jaques said he was able to visit the Bush Library and sit in the president’s chair in a replica of the Oval Office that contained items from Bush’s presidency.

“It seems like it would be a lot of power to sit in that chair,” he said. “It’s probably not a big deal to some, but it was for me.”

Jaques said he was fortunate to also shake hands with President Ronald Reagan and walk a golf hole with President Gerald Ford. But it is obvious he has fond memories of President George H.W. Bush.

Jaques said he never thought that making model airplanes as a kid growing up in Indiana would lead to him being an aviation historian and having a chance meeting with a U.S. president.

“I was shocked when he got beat (in 1992 by Bill Clinton),” said Jaques, who served as a historian at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville for five years after retiring from the Young Door Co. “President Bush was an honest president. He had no scandals in his personal life. He was probably the most experienced president we’ve ever had. He was a former CIA director, a vice president, ambassador to China. He knew the inner workings of Washington. He had military service to his country.”

Morgan County Republican Party Executive Committee Chairman Clay Marlow agrees with Jaques.

“It is impressive to look at President Bush’s life,” Marlow said. “He accomplished so much. If you get shot down in an airplane serving your country and then become president, I’d say that’s pretty impressive.”

He said he was touched to see former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, get up out of his wheelchair to salute Bush’s casket at the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday.

“When you’ve got a 95-year-old saluting a deceased 94-year-old with his left hand because his right arm was left inoperable because of war injuries, that kind of gets to you.”

Bush was 94.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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