Initial success: the promise of Neil Bush's middle name

September 23, 1990|By Paul West | Paul West,Sun Staff Correspondent

DENVER -- What's in a name? Fate, perhaps, if the name is Neil Mallon Bush.

Many of those who have followed the savings and loan scandal think Neil Bush's last name opened doors in the Denver business community, eventually landing him a seat on the board of directors of the doomed Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan


His family thinks his name drew the attention, unfairly, of federal regulators, who accused him of conflicts of interest after Silverado collapsed.

"It's darn unfair that they're only doing it to hurt George Bush . . . and they have succeeded," first lady Barbara Bush told wire service reporters recently.

The tale of Neil Bush's troubles has been aired at length and will be again Tuesday when the president's 35-year-old son appears at a public hearing in Denver to answer the charges lodged against him. But there's another part of the younger Bush's name that has been largely overlooked.

It, too, tells a story. It's a reminder of George Bush's path to success, a road paved with connections and influential friends, the same course Neil Bush tried to follow with very different results.

It has been said that everyone in the Bush clan is named for somebody else. The president was named for his maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker. Even Millie, the family dog, is named for an old friend, Mildred Kerr from Texas.

All the Bush children, save one, have inherited family names. The exception came in 1955. George and Barbara Bush broke the pattern that year by making their third son the namesake of Neil Mallon, a Dallas industrialist who helped convert George Bush from a Connecticut Yankee into a Texas oilman.

Like George and his father, Prescott Bush, Mr. Mallon attended Yale and was inducted into Skull and Bones, the school's most prestigious secret society.

Thanks largely to Prescott Bush, a New York investment banker, Mr. Mallon landed a job as president of Dresser Industries, an energy company with operations throughout the Southwest. And on his board of directors, Prescott Bush served for decades.

Mr. Mallon returned the favor in 1948, when George Bush graduated.

"Neil invited George to come down and start with Dresser and said, 'You'll have a chance to run it someday,' " Prescott Bush Jr., the president's brother, once told a Los Angeles Time interviewer. George accepted.

For many years, the president and his political supporters perpetuated the myth that he had begun from scratch to become a millionaire in the Texas oil business.

"I went down to Texas and rolled up my sleeves and went to work in a supply store down there," candidate Bush told an interviewer in 1979. "I made it on my own, without family money."

In fact, sizable infusions of cash from friends and family members, particularly Mr. Bush's uncle, Herbert Walker, an investment banker, were crucial to the future president's business success. According to various accounts, family sources tapped investors for between $300,000 and $800,000 to help Mr. Bush get off the ground as a promoter of oil deals in the early 1950s.

His ability to raise the money to finance drilling ventures was what helped set Mr. Bush apart from others struggling to pump the oil from beneath the barren West Texas soil.

"Connections were the whole game," C. Fred Chambers, a Texas oilman and Bush family intimate (they named a dog after him, too) told a magazine interviewer in 1986.

Just as George Bush followed the career path of his father, who became a U.S. senator, most of his children have patterned their lives after his. The eldest son, George W. Bush, went to Yale, started an oil company and made an unsuccessful bid for a Texas congressional seat. Another, Jeb, is a Florida businessman regarded by Republicans as one of that state's future political stars.

"The president adored his father, and in many ways his father was a real role model for him. And I think that's the situation with the boys," said former Democratic Representative Thomas L. Ashley, who has been close to George Bush since they were at Yale.

Neil "in many respects is not unlike his father," added Mr. Ashley, a banking lobbyist who is advising the family on Neil's S&L problems. "He has a fine sense of humor. He's independent. He likes to be in charge of himself."

Neil Bush, who has lowered his profile in recent weeks and declined interview requests for this article, did not initially set out along the same road traveled by his famous father. Hampered by learning disabilities, he had to struggle to graduate from a private Washington high school.

At Tulane University in New Orleans, where he received undergraduate and graduate degrees during the 1970s, he lived off-campus and did little to attract attention. He may even, humorously, have tried to avoid it; the Tulane yearbook for his sophomore year, 1975, carries a picture of a long-haired, mustachioed Neil Bush under the fictitious name "Whitney X. Branglebush."

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