WILKES-BARRE — During her lifetime, the late Barbara Bush made many friends and left lasting impressions on all, including several people from Wyoming Valley.
On Wednesday, three of them shared their fond recollections of a woman they described as kind, funny, intelligent — America’s quintessential First Lady.
Barbara Pierce Bush passed away Tuesday at the age of 92.
Attorney David Schwager, former Luzerne County Republican Party Executive Director Renita Fennick and businessman Seymour Holtzman each offered poignant stories of their special times with Mrs. Bush.
Schwager was a 17-year-old high school student at Wyoming Seminary when he first met Mrs. Bush. It was 1980 and George H.W. Bush unexpectedly won the Iowa Caucuses and then made a big splash in the media about having momentum. Bush would lose the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan, joining the GOP ticket as the vice presidential candidate.
Schwager said Bush was going to make a final push in Pennsylvania’s April primary, but since Reagan was running with away with the race, every major Republican leader and officeholder was pledged to Reagan.
“I was vice chair of the Pennsylvania Teen Age Republicans,” Schwager said. “I was 17 years old and a senior in high school at Wyoming Seminary. Marc Holtzman and I started the Teenage Republican Club and had been in prior contact with the Bush campaign.”
Schwager said the campaign asked him if he would serve as the Luzerne County Chair of the campaign and he accepted. Schwager arranged with several neighbors on Second Avenue in Kingston to have Bush go door-to-door and stop at their houses. There would also be a rally in the backyard of Atty. Jim Harris and his family of Reynolds Street in Kingston. After that Bush would head up to Scranton and events with McDade.
“I would drive Mrs. Bush to a number of events and then to Scranton to join up with her husband,” Schwager said. “From there, I drove Mrs. Bush to our other stops in my first car, a 1976 blue Chevrolet Nova. We had lunch at the Elby’s Big Boy Restaurant in Edwardsville with Minnie McClellan of the Sunday Independent for an interview of Mrs. Bush. We also stopped at a day care on Walnut Street in Kingston run by the late Rita Casey. I then drove Mrs. Bush up to Scranton where we joined her husband and the rest of the entourage. I said my goodbyes for the moment and later that evening joined them at Nay Aug Park for the ‘Meet George Bush’ event.”
Schwager would later be invited to the various Bush inaugurals — 1981, ‘85 & ‘89. He attended the 1988 Republican convention in New Orleans in August where Bush was nominated to run for president.
In 1988, Schwager said Mrs. Bush visited Northeastern Pennsylvania to attend a fundraiser at Montage where he again saw her.
Schwager is a partner in the law firm Chariton, Schwager and Malak on South Main Street, Wilkes-Barre.
Schwager said he was extremely saddened by the news of Mrs. Bush’s death.
“She was as her public persona suggested, a very fine lady, intelligent, of good humor, kind — the epitome of class,” Schwager said. “It was a real privilege to spend so much one-on-one time with such a historical figure. She certainly will be missed by many.”
Schwager was on the Bush family Christmas card list and he has several cards and handwritten letters from Mrs. Bush and her husband.
Holtzman family remembers
Seymour Holtzman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Jewelcor, Inc., a former New York Stock Exchange listed company that operated a chain of retail stores throughout the United States, resided in Kingston and now lives in Palm Beach, Florida. He and his wife, Evelyn, and son, Marc, met Mrs. Bush when she visited Wilkes-Barre during her husband’s presidential campaign.
“Marc brought her in,” Holtzman said. “We met her and found her to be just a lovely lady. She couldn’t have been nicer.”
The Holtzmans snapped a photograph with Mrs. Bush and they chatted for a while. Holtzman said he held fund an inaugural ball for President Bush that was attended by some 1,100 people. He said he raised money for the campaign.
“We saw them a couple of times after that,” Holtzman said. “Marc stayed in close contact with them. She was a perfect First Lady — really just very pleasant and she couldn’t be nicer.”
A young reporter
Renita Fennick was working as a reporter in 1980 and was a student at King’s College. She said she has several letters and cards “somewhere in my attic.”
After the election, Fennick wrote to Mrs. Bush to congratulate her and told her that it was her first time voting in a presidential race and that I had voted for the Reagan-Bush ticket.
“She wrote back, and in her witty way, congratulated me on picking a winner the first time around,” Fennick said. “She said something to the effect that she had voted for many losing candidates in her many years.”
Fennick said during the 1980 presidential election Wyoming Valley was fortunate that so many of the presidential candidates and their families made campaign stops here.
“Early in the campaign, few people were familiar with vice presidential candidate George H.W. Bush, so even fewer knew who Barbara Bush was,” Fennick said. “When she came to town, the seasoned reporters passed on the assignment to me.”
Fennick said Marc Holtzman arranged a one-on-one interview and Mrs. Bush granted Fennick “a delightful” conversation.
“She was very funny, wise and sweet,” Fennick said. “She followed up with a note a few days later, thanking me for the interview and for the pleasant talk we shared. I wrote her a note and for a few years received Christmas cards from the Bush family.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.