George Bush and Me

Gerrie Schipske
Congresswoman Shirley Pettis

As I watched former President George W, Bush struggle with his emotions as he talks about his father, President George H.W. Bush, I am struck with the memory of Bush senior coming to the congressional office where I worked shortly after he was sworn in as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The year was 1976 and he came to visit the member of Congress for whom I worked. Bush and Jerry Pettis were elected to Congress in 1967 and became part of the same freshman class. More significantly, they bought houses next to each other on Foxhall Road, allowing the two families to spend time together. Jerry Pettis died in a plane crash on Valentine’s Day 1975. His widow, Shirley, was elected to his seat.

You would not know by his behavior that George H.W. Bush was the CIA Director. He came into the office without pomp and said “hello” to all of the staff and then visited briefly with his friend and his former personal secretary. He came to chat, not about foreign policy or the machinations of the intelligence community. He came to talk to his friends, Shirley Pettis and our chief of staff, Rose Zamaria, about what he and Bar were doing and to give an update about his very large family. When he finished his visits, he always took time to say “goodbye” as he left the office.

Rose had served as his personal secretary when he was the Chair of the Republican National Committee. He adored her and respected her strict demeanor in the office, once referring to her as being  “tough as a boot.” And she was.

When Bush was appointed in 1974 as liaison to the People’s Republic of China, he asked his friend Jerry Pettis to hire Rose.  Pettis made her his chief of staff (and later she served as Director of White House Operations when Bush was President). After the Shirley was elected, she kept Rose as chief. So it was natural that when Bush came to Capitol Hill to lobby for the CIA that he would stop by and visit Rose and Congresswoman Pettis.

Our congressional office was filled with the needle point of Barbara Bush and the stories Rose told us about each and every member of the Bush family. Rose recounted how Mr. and Mrs. Bush loved their children but how they had a special fondness and worry for their rebel, George Jr.

Rose was emphatic how they were concerned that George Jr. needed to settle down and get married. Apparently, George Jr., struggled to find his way, serving in the Air National Guard,  and on political campaigns and then working in the oil industry.

Always the perennial matchmaker, Rose asked if I would be interested in meeting George Jr. and possibly going on a date.  I guess I passed as the kind of woman that could settle him down. I politely declined because unbeknownst to Rose or the congresswoman, I was in the closet.

The always gracious and unassuming senior Bush continued to visit our office until he left the CIA in 1977. That same year, George Jr. married Laura within six months of meeting her. Rose was delighted and relieved.

In 2007, Congresswoman Pettis donated her husband’s and her official papers to Loma Linda University. The collection was officially dedicated in November and former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush, attended the event and paid special tribute to Shirley Pettis.

Rose passed away in 2015. The Congresswoman passed away in 2016. Barbara Bush and President Bush died this year. I’m sure they are busy catching up on Washington stories.

Gerrie Schipske served as staff in the U.S. Congress from 1973 to 1977 and then was recruited by Long Beach City Manager John Dever to serve as the city’s first public information officer.


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