George H.W. Bush showed his 'kinder, gentler' side in Cincinnati

Baseball fan also hosted 1990 Reds at White House
Posted at 1:00 AM, Apr 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-08 05:58:16-05

CINCINNATI – As 41st president and a vice president running for the White House, George H. W. Bush had many connections with the Queen City. Most were political, as you’d expect. A few, though, seemed to come straight from the heart.

The candidate who said he wanted to make America “a kinder, gentler nation” provided examples for Cincinnati and all the world to see.

Like the time he took an unplanned trip to a hospital to visit an honor student who had been shot outside his high school in 1990, leaving him paralyzed. Derrick Turnbow’s fight to survive and graduate became an inspiration still felt strongly today.

WATCH WCPO’s report on Bush’s visit to Derrick Turnbow:


And the time Bush 41 met privately with the family of Army Pfc. James Markwell of Sharonville, who was killed by gunfire in the 1989 Panama invasion.

A baseball player at Yale and a big fan, Bush seemed to genuinely enjoy hosting the 1990 Reds at the White House after they swept the favored A’s in the World Series. He praised the Reds as a team “that looked its opponent in the eye and made the opponents blink."

Thirteen years later, he subbed for Bush 43 and threw out the ceremonial first pitch when the Reds opened Great American Ball Park in 2003.

As evidence of the Republican’s popularity here, a crowd estimated at 10,000 jammed Fountain Square four days before the 1988 election and cheered Bush, his wife Barbara and their daughter at one of his last campaign stops before his landslide victory over Democrat Michael Dukasis.

The crowd might have been inflated by the fact that Johnny Bench was on stage with Bush, and a Bengals pep rally (they were marching to the Super Bowl at the time) was held on the square before Bush arrived.


No matter. Bush had conservative Cincinnatians eating out of his hand, calling Dukasis an “extremist.”

“We have created for the United States a great divide,” Bush exclaimed,  “and I am on your side of the great divide and he (Dukasis) is out where Johnny Bench used to hit 'em in deep left field.”

Bush knew how cater to Tri-State voters. He stopped at Skyline and Frisch’s during his many visits and even stepped into the assembly line to fill a tube of toothpaste during a tour of the Procter and Gamble Ivorydale plant.


But not all his appearances were made for TV.

Fifteen months into his presidency, Bush came to Cincinnati on a Monday evening in April 1990 to raise money for Ohio Republican candidates.  The next morning, he ordered his motorcade to drive him from his downtown hotel up I-75 to Drake Hospital to visit 16-year-old Turnbow.

At some point, without Twitter or Facebook,  Bush had heard about Derrick and his fight for life. Bush spent 15 minutes in private with the Taft High student and offered gentle and kind words of encouragement, according to Drake VP Judy Van Ginkel.

"Derrick was obviously pleased by this," Van Ginkel said. She said Derrick responded by blinking and smiling. Derrick was unable to speak at that point, so Bush did all the talking. "He expressed his pride in Derrick. He gave him encouragement and said he hoped (Derrick) didn't give up hope because he knew this is very difficult for Derrick," Van Ginkel said.

READ Turnbow's inspirational story

Earlier that year, while here to speak to the Chamber of Commerce, Bush met privately with the family of Army Pfc. James Markwell. The Ranger medic from Sharonville was killed by gunfire in the Panama invasion. Markswell’s mother gave Bush a copy of the “death letter” her son had sent to his family before going into combat. She told Bush his decision to send troops to oust Gen. Noriega was  “a tough, a very difficult decision. You had to do it. You had to do it.”

“All of us were pretty broken up at that point,” said Marlin Fitzwater, the president`s spokesperson, describing the reaction of Bush and others in the room.

Bush visited the Tri-State as early as 1988 when he was campaigning as Ronald Reagan’s VP candidate. At different times he spoke to students at Taft High School in the West End and Blessed Sacrament School in Northern Kentucky.

In November 1990 he appeared at a fundraiser on behalf of Ohio GOP candidates in front of a banner with the words “Clean Sweep,” playing off the Reds’ World Series championship. Ken Blackwell, a Republican running for Congress, presented Bush with a  “Clean Sweep” broom. Also there were George Voinovich (running for governor), Mike DeWine (for lieutenant governor), Robert Taft II (for Ohio secretary of state) and John Boehner (for 8th District congressman).  All won except Blackwell.


In 1992, while running for re-election against Bill Clinton, Bush and his VP, Dan Quayle,  stopped in the Queen City on Aug. 27. Sometimes there wasn’t enough time to visit between campaign stops, so Bush just gave a news conference at the airport or spoke to a gaggle of reporters on the tarmac.

After Bush lost to Clinton, the former president returned with the former first lady in 1994. While she spoke at a  Boys/Girls Club dinner, Bush 41 went to a private fundraiser for Rep. Rob Portman downtown. Visiting briefly with reporters at the airport, Bush got the last word, reminding them that he was now a private citizen.

“You didn’t hear what I said about interviews and questions,” he said politely when a reporter threw out a question. “It used to be I’d respond to a question like that – always be polite to you guys. And now my view is,  you had me for 30 years, and now I’m just going to do my own thing.”

RELATED: Barbara Bush in Cincinnati.

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