Last week, two people who have had a profound impact on my life left us after living lives that should be an example to us all. Both came from what we commonly call the era of the “Greatest Generation.” That generation has helped to define who we are as a nation, and both individuals have left defining imprints on the lives of many that surrounded them.
Geraldine Jones Hoyt and George H.W. Bush couldn’t have been born into different homes, but both couldn’t have been kinder or more grounded people. Geraldine into a family whose dad was a postman, and George Bush to a father that was a statesman in his own right.
At 18 years of age George Bush would hear the call to service and enlist in the navy and become the nation’s youngest combat aviator. He would be shot down in the Pacific during his service to his country in WWII. He would go on to getting his hands dirty, as he’d leave the security of a well-connected family on the east coast to learn the oil business from the ground up in Texas, a world away from his home state of Connecticut.
He would eventually hear the call of service as a young congressman from Texas and onto to several other positions which would eventually lead to that of the highest office in the land, but not until after a number of disappointments and learning experiences.
For Geraldine, she would graduate from Mary Hitchcock Hospital Memorial School of Nursing and belong to the United States Cadet and Nurses Corps. She would go on to serve as night supervisor at the hospital, until she married Weldon Hoyt, her childhood sweetheart, in 1955.
She was a woman committed to her profession, her family and her friends. She would serve her community and those around her, but just on a different scale than George Bush, but also with great passion and pride.
Both Weldon and Geraldine would become an important part of my life later in the ‘70s, a gift that I will always consider a great blessing. She as a second mother, and he as a big brother.
I first met candidate Bush when he was running for the GOP Republican nomination for President in 1980 (he would lose that nod to Ronald Reagan). The New Hampshire primary at that time was one which was won in the living rooms, kitchens and diners along the highways in our small state. It was where you could get up close and personal with a candidate and look them in the eye. I loved Bush’s sincerity and honesty when he would speak to you. The genuine nature of the man would overwhelm you and you couldn’t help but sense his sincerity.
I was a Truman/Kennedy Democrat at the time and only 31 years of age. I was drawn to them both; Truman for his strength of character and Kennedy for his charisma and vision for the future. After meeting Bush and Reagan, I would register as a Republican and vote for Bush during that primary.
The bond between the Hoyt family and myself however was of a personal nature. Geraldine’s husband Weldon and I both served as firefighters in Concord, New Hampshire. He was what we referred to as a “call-man” or volunteer, and I as a career firefighter. We also belonged to a local rescue squad, which serviced several small communities surrounding us and provided specialty rescue and EMS services as volunteers. It was from that connection grew a bond between myself and the Hoyt family that still exists after almost 50 years.
After serving eight years as Reagan’s loyal, valued Vice President, it was time for Bush himself to once again seek nod for the nomination. After his nomination and eventual successful election Bush would begin his own presidency. I met him shortly after, at a fundraiser in D.C. at the Congressional Fire Caucus Dinner.
I am sure he didn’t recognize me from our short encounters at several homes in New Hampshire nine years previous, but when I mentioned the name of one of his close friends in my state that I served in the legislature with, his eyes would widen, and his grip tighten. He would question me about what was going on in New Hampshire and turn to his Chief of Staff at the time, John Sununu, who was the former Governor of New Hampshire and he would also engage in the dialogue.
It was a thrill for me that he would take the time to linger and share small-talk with someone like me for the second time in my life. The genuine nature of the man would continue to shine through, even though he was now surrounded by the trappings of great power.
There was no shortage of small talk at the kitchen table at the Hoyt’s house each evening. It was one of my favorite stops for a cup of tea and one of Geraldine’s famous brownies or Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies. We would have breakfast almost every Sunday with another group of local residents and travel to several small mom and pop eateries around the area. Here the conversations would eventually turn to my travels for work, or the issues coming up in the course of my service as either a city councilman or state legislator.
Those discussions would revolve around several issues, and regardless of how differing the opinions, our group would always leave laughing and still friends.
Both Geraldine Hoyt and George H.W. Bush traveled different paths in their lives, but both were individuals who came from a generation which has helped to define us as a nation. Their love of their country, their families and faith in God has helped to make an impact on the lives of so many around them.
The Bush and Hoyt families are not so different, and both could have raised their children down the street from each other and had their kids play and grow together. I’m glad they didn’t, because the nation needed George H.W. Bush and I selfishly needed the Hoyt family. I am proud to have been touched by President Bush’s influence in my life due to his commitment to service, honesty and integrity, something that at times is missing today.
I am equally honored to have been part of Geraldine and Weldon’s family. I can never truly express my gratitude for that friendship and honor they bestowed to me by including me into their family unit. I’ll miss her but am pleased she and Weldon can now be back together and now she is at peace.
God bless both the Bush and Hoyt families, we are honored to have had you touch our lives.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com