Library, museum celebrating George Bush dedicated in Texas Four presidents and six first ladies attend ceremonies

November 07, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- In the company of three other presidents, six first ladies and 20,000 or so of his friends, the 41st president of the United States was celebrated yesterday at the dedication of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Bush, 73, clearly reveled in the ceremony, cheerfully mixing bouts of swagger suitable to Texas, his adopted state, with at least a nod or two to the Yankee reserve he said his parents always tried to instill in him when he was growing up in New England.

"Mother always lectured us -- in a kinder, gentler way -- against using the big 'I,' " the former president told the crowd. "Well, I'm afraid that some of these exhibits here today might violate her no-bragging rule."

Bush and his wife, Barbara, chatted amiably with President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton at several points during the dedication of the $83 million complex. Clinton, who ousted Bush from the White House five years ago, offered a warm tribute to his predecessor.

"You know," Clinton said, "we have an interesting country with a lot of religious, racial and political diversity. Once in a while we all get together. This morning, I think it is fair to say that all Americans are united in tribute to President George Bush for his lifetime of service to America."

Bush thanked the Clintons for having been "exceptionally gracious" to him and Mrs. Bush in the past few years and, drawing laughter from the crowd, said, "I'm very grateful to President Clinton, who fair and square saw to it that I have a wonderful private life."

Bush choked up only once, when he said, "I don't know if Lou Gehrig, my great idol, said it first, but I do know that he said it best: Today I feel like the luckiest person in the world."

The dedication ceremony, which lasted roughly an hour, was held just outside the new library and museum, a three-building limestone complex on the campus of Texas A&M University here. It included remarks by former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter and by Nancy Reagan, whose now-ailing husband, Ronald Reagan, Bush served for eight years as vice president.

The money for the complex came from Texas A&M and 10,000 donors. Eighteen donors are listed in the center's records as having given at least $1 million each, among them several from overseas, including the Japanese government; Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, president of the United Arab Emirates, and the people of the emirates; Kuwait, and the Kuwaiti Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences.

The complex, on a 90-acre site 85 miles northwest of Houston, set in a corner of the campus that used to be a university hog farm, contains a trove of Bush paraphernalia.

Included are re-creations of Bush's offices at Camp David and aboard Air Force One; a 1947 Studebaker similar to the one in which he drove to West Texas to launch a career in the oil business; and a Grumman TBM Avenger aircraft, suspended from the ceiling, like the one in which 20-year-old George Bush was shot down in the Pacific in World War II.

Also included are nearly 40 million pages of documents from Bush's years as congressman, chief U.S. delegate to the United Nations, liaison to China, director of central intelligence, vice president and president. Library officials said they had saved nearly everything, including the most mundane of memos.

"One man's trash," said David Alsobrook, the library's director, "is another man's dissertation."

Carter and Ford elicited laughs with a bit of self-deprecating commiseration with Bush on what it feels like to be thrust out of office by the voters.

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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