Pine Belt man recalls friendship with late President

By JUDGE TONY MOZINGO,

Before the late Robin Wentworth came into my life, there was only one real hero for me.  

One man above all exemplified what men ought to be – President George Herbert Walker Bush.

I first wrote to him in November 1992 – the week after he lost his re-election bid to Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas.

The purpose of my hand-written letter was to express my most personal feelings of gratitude to him for his dignified example in victory and defeat and to explain that I intended to carry on with his mission as a “point of light” in service to my community and our Country. 

Although it sounds corny now, the message was and is still very real to me. 

The message apparently meant enough to him that Jim McGrath, the former pressident’s spokesman, called to tell me so. 

The letter began a long-distance friendship that ended this week when my friend died, but his acknowledgement of the same would pay big dividends for the next 25 years. 

In the years that followed, I reckon I wrote my friend more than 50 letters. 

Sometimes I wrote because I read that he achieved another milestone.  

Sometimes the occasion was sad. (I remember writing when I heard he was diagnosed with a Parkinson’s-like affliction that would eventually rob him of his mobility). 

All of my letters were punctuated with the same message: I wanted him to know that I was continuing to make efforts to grow beyond my arrogant ambitions and instead I was trying to understand his message about selflessness. 

I often pictured him gladly receiving my letters and smiled at the thought of him thinking of me from time to time. 

Sometimes proof that he did think of me returned. Now and then I’d receive a photo or a note from my friend.

George H.W. Bush’s affinity for personal letters is well-known now.  

He loved writing letters, but not many people know that is because he loved receiving them. 

I knew it because I’d studied everything about him since the first day we met, four years before my first letter.

Fact is, I knew as much as anyone outside of his family about him. 

The well-documented character and dignity that fueled his ascendancy to the White House so deeply inspired me that my mission was to become a “point of light” in the world through my own public service. 

Once in 2013 while passing through downtown Houston on the way to San Antonio for a continuing education class, I passed an exit for Memorial Boulevard and realized it was the same street that I had mailed all those letters to during the course of the last several years.

Figuring my friend would love for me to swing by his house for a cup of coffee, I wrote to him from San Antonio and told him that I’d make time to do just that very thing on my way home the following weekend.

Of course, my goal was simply to help my aging friend smile. By then I’d heard that he was wheelchair-bound and that he had stopped making public appearances. 

But I just knew he’d want to know that my light still shines in his honor.

Then the hand of good fortune turned my way.

The day before classes ended on Friday, I received a call from an unidentifiable number in Houston. 

My colleagues and the instructor were clearly offended when I abruptly excused myself from the lecture, announcing in a lowly voice that, “I have to take this call.”

I caught it on the third ring.  

The stipulations were many. 

No cell phones.

No social media posts allowed.  

This was a strictly private gesture from a friend and those around him counted on my discretion.

But now, I’m able to acknowledge to all those who have supported me in my career and cared about me – that my friend, “Bush 41,” was everything and more than I wish to be as a man. 

Mr. President had a special love for the people of Mississippi. 

When I asked why, his bride, “Bar,” said it was because Mississippians voted for her “George” by a larger percentage than any other state in America.

Both times.

The 20 minutes we spent together went quickly by, but in that short window of time I learned to understand and gain an even greater perspective on how one person can influence so many – and how they may be their own points of light in an otherwise darkening world.  

As you read this, I’ll be standing in a long line of lights that lead to a flag-draped casket in Houston, Texas. 

The longer the line, the better I’ll like it. 

I’ll be but a face in the crowd, but I intend to pay my respects in person to my friend, then quietly resolve to return to my service to others. 

Nearly 30 years after the first letter, I can honestly say that I would not be in public service but for the example set by my friend, George H.W. Bush. 

His defeat in the 1992 presidential election would be followed by failed campaigns of my own.

But his example of dignity and perseverance helped me understand the guiding hand of Providence. 

When I did finally win, I understood why I’d lost before. 

I did not win for me or my sake. 

I won so that my light could shine and so that on some small level, my service might inspire some young girl or boy to make a difference in their world. 

I am not a worshipper of man, but I recognize and appreciate greatness in men who inspire others.

President Bush and the late Robin Wentworth come to mind.

What a blessing it was to have known both of them as friends.

They had much in common. Much that appeals to me. 

It is up to each of us to adopt the example of those who leave such legacies and move forward together in service to others, not ourselves. 

 

Judge Anthony A. “Tony” Mozingo serves as Circuit Court Judge for the 15th District. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and the Mississippi College School of Law, he lives in Lamar County with his wife, Ashley, and their children.