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Ex-Long Island pols with Bush ties recall sincere, compassionate man

President George Bush poses for photographers after speaking

President George Bush poses for photographers after speaking about the situation in Somalia in 1992. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Luke Frazza

When William Canary's daughter was born in 1998 her father's former boss immediately wrote her a note.

George H.W. Bush welcomed the baby to this "big wonderful world," saying, "I want to be your friend."

"Now, I'm a happy, kind of private guy. But I used to be president — No kidding!" the typewritten note said.

Saying "love counts for a lot," Bush promised: "You will grow up with a lot of love in your life  . . . May your exciting life ahead of you be full of happiness. I know it will be." By hand, he added, "I love you already."

That was vintage Bush, said Canary, a special assistant to the president for three years.

"The lessons that he taught so many of us were that kindness, love, compassion, integrity, public service — these are the real foundations of how someone should live his or her life," said Canary, a former Suffolk County elections commissioner who, after his White House stint, was the Republican National Committee's chief of staff.

"That is why we mourn him on this day," said Canary, speaking from Montgomery, Alabama, where he led the Business Council of Alabama before becoming a U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior fellow. 

Bill Dal Col, a former Babylon councilman, veteran of Bush's 1988 campaign, and twice Steve Forbes' presidential campaign manager, defined one of Bush's paramount values: "It was do the right thing, and you'll end up at the right place." 

Staffers "always knew at the end of the day, he was the rock at the center, and if you felt any difficulty, you knew where to turn," said Dal Col, who is now chief executive of Potomac Strategic Communications, in Washington, D.C.

"What you always saw was somebody who was steady, who provided calm leadership, and even in difficult situations, showed an optimistic outlook," he added.

Pollster Michael Dawidziak witnessed Bush's composure after his third-place finish in the 1988 Iowa caucuses. "I'm sure on the inside he was very upset . . . but he never showed it. And that was the kind of person he was."

"He was the definition of grace under fire. There was not a chance in the world he was going to show how he really felt," said Dawidziak, founder of Sayville's Strategic Planning Systems Inc. Bush was less restrained after his comeback primary win in New Hampshire. He was "ecstatic," Dawidziak said.

"He was a man of honor, a man that service and honor meant something to him," Dawidziak said.

"And that filtered down to everybody," he said, explaining this led Dawidziak to remove a satirical poster of Bill Clinton after Clinton's victory in the heated 1992 election, telling his staff,  "Now that he's president, he deserves the respect of the office."    

Bush's finest qualities carried him through his life after the presidency, Dal Col said.

"Once he left office, he maintained the highest standard he had set while in office, and he was always available to people," Dal Col said, citing how Bush befriended his former adversary Clinton.

Bush was extraordinary for his compassion, concern and sincerity, he said.

"When he talked to you, you felt he was talking to you directly," Dal Col said. "He was not one to look over his shoulder to see who was next." 

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