Bruce Vincent is the Executive Director of Provider Pals a nation-wide urban/rural youth exchange program based in Montana. He was the recipient of a Preserve America Presidential Award, presented to him by the president in the White House. This is his account of an extraordinary moment between him and President Bush that occurred at the end of the presentation. I invite you to send this on to friends who may benefit from knowing the kind of man America is blessed with to have as their president. You can email it to yourself or someone else by clicking on the envelope at the bottom of this post.
I’ve written the following narrative to chronicle the day of the award ceremony in DC. When you get done reading this you’ll understand the dilemma I face in telling this story beyond my circle of close friends. The moment with the President in the Oval Office was incredible. I want to protect the memory because it was an intensely private moment between two men. At the same time I’d like to share it on a broader scale because I’d like others to know what I know about the man sitting at the desk in the Oval Office. For now, I’ll just tell it to you folks.
<>As you know, our efforts concerning the reintroduction of our rural, resource providing cultures to the ever more urbane society of our nation has been honored with an award from the President and First Lady Bush. Nominated by the Forest Service for the first ever Preserve America President’s Award was our cultural exchange program Provider Pals™ and our restoration of an abandoned CCC built Forest Service ranger station (Raven Ranger Station) for use as a learning center for students from throughout the nation that are engaged in our cultural exchange.
> <>The award was given at a White House ceremony on Monday, May 3. Guests at the East Room ceremony (the Rose Garden was going to be used but it rained) included Secretary of Interior Gail Norton, Secretary of Agriculture Anne Venneman, Undersecretary Mark Rey, Forest Service Chief Bosworth, President’s Preserve America Advisory Council, and others. The East Wing was closed to the public for the event and those who attended enjoyed brunch and live chamber music. Provider Pals™ was able to bring members of our board of directors, staff from our partner Communities for a Great Northwest, our Kootenai Forest Supervisor and Forest Archaeologist, and two officials from our major sponsor Ford Motor Company. Thankfully, I was also able to bring PJ and all four children. In the East Room, Secretaries Venneman and Norton spoke as did First Lady Bush and Preserve America’s Chairman John Nau. The First Lady then gave autographed copies of a White House book to award winners in this ceremony and posed for pictures. When the ceremony concluded, the First Lady stayed for a bit in the Green Room and chatted and posed for pictures. She was then escorted outside to meet the President and board a Marine One helicopter waiting to whisk them off to the airport. >
For me, however, the biggest event of the day had already happened when the East Room Ceremony started up. While the East Room ceremony was being prepared, the four national award winners and the entities that nominated them were taken to the Oval Office for the official award presentation by President Bush and First Lady Bush. There were eight of us in total.<>Stepping into the Oval Office, each of us was introduced to the President and Mrs. Bush. We shook hands and participated in small talk. When the President was told that we were from Libby, Montana, I reminded him that Marc Racicot is our native son and the President offered his warm thoughts about Governor Racicot.
> <>I have to tell you, I was blown away by two things upon entering the office. First, the Oval Office sense of ‘place’ is unreal. The President later shared a story of Russian President Putin entering the room prepared to tackle the President in a tough negotiation and upon entering the first words the atheist muttered to the President were “Oh, my God.” I concurred. I could feel the history in my bones. >
Second, the man that inhabits the office engaged me with a firm handshake and a look that can only be described as penetrating. Warm, alive, fully engaged, disarmingly penetrating.
I was admittedly concerned about meeting the man. I think all of us have an inner hope that the most powerful man in our country is worthy of the responsibility and authority that we bestow upon them through our vote. I admit that part of me was afraid that I would be let down by the moment – that the person and the place could not meet the lofty expectations of my fantasy world. This says nothing about my esteem for President Bush but just reflects my practical realization that reality may not match my ‘dream.’
Once inside the office, President Bush got right down to business and, standing in front of his desk, handed out the awards one at a time while posing for photos with the winners and Mrs. Bush.
With the mission accomplished, the President and Mrs. Bush relaxed and initiated a lengthy, informal conversation about a number of things with our entire small group. He and the First Lady talked about such things as the rug in the office. It is traditionally designed by the First Lady to make a statement about the President. Mrs. Bush chose a brilliant yellow sunburst pattern to reflect ‘hope.’ President Bush talked about the absolute need for hope in the Oval Office. He said he believed that with hard work and faith in God every day is a day of hope and he starts each of his days in the Oval Office with such hope.<>He and the First Lady were asked about the impact of the a Presidency on their marriage and, with an arm casually wrapped around Laura, he said that he thought the place may be hard on weak marriages but that it had the ability to make strong marriages even stronger and that he was blessed with a strong one. >
When asked what the biggest challenge of the Presidency was, he talked about the daily frustration of partisan politics. ‘This from a politician,’ he said. He said that when he was elected he promised that he would do in DC what he had done in Texas and that was build alliances and coalitions that bridged party lines in order to move the nation forward. He had quickly learned that there are those in the nation’s capital that would rather see the nation dismantled than work together to achieve a common good. That, he said, is a bitter and continuing disappointment.
The President talked about the artwork and other items of interest in the room. For instance the desk he uses is the one that was given to the U.S. by Queen Victoria and used by FDR and JFK. In fact FDR had a front panel added to the desk to cover the mid section because FDR did not want the country to know he was in a wheelchair. President Bush laughed and said, “My how things have changed, FDR hid a wheelchair and if I eat a pretzel and get a tingle in my arm it’s front page news around the globe.” That little desk faux front is hinged by the way, and is the door that we all have seen John John sticking his head from behind in the famous photo of JFK at work.<>The President also noted that much of the artwork in the office is from Texas or about Texas. He said that it made sense for him to have it in his office because Texas is part of who he is. He talked about family and place and faith helping to build the person you end up being and noted that the Oval Office reflected who he is. He noted that it would be a mistake to come to the Oval Office and entertain a mission to ‘find yourself.’ He said that with all of the pressures and responsibilities that go with the job, you’d best know who you are when you put your name plate on the desk in the Oval Office. He said he knows who he is and now America has had four years to learn about who he is. If they like what they see, he may have another four years. If not, then he may be going back to Texas.
After about 30 or 35 minutes, it was time to go. By then we were all relaxed and I felt as if I had just had an excellent visit with a friend. The President and First Lady made one more pass down the line of awardees, shaking hands and offering congratulations. When the President shook my hand I said “thank you Mr. President and God bless you and your family.” He was already in motion to the next person in line, but he stopped abruptly, turned fully back to me, gave me a piercing look, renewed the vigor of his handshake and said, “Thank you – and God bless you and yours as well.”<>On our way out of the office we were to leave by the glass doors on the west side of the office. I was the last person in the exit line. As I shook his hand one final time, President Bush said “I’ll be sure to tell Marc hello and give him your regards.” I then did something that surprised even me. I said to him, “Mr. President, I know you are a busy man and your time is precious. I also know you to be a man of strong faith and have a favor to ask you.” As he shook my hand he looked me in the eye and said, “Just name it.” >
I told him that my step-Mom was at that moment in a hospital in Kalispell, Montana, having a tumor removed from her skull and it would mean a great deal to me if he would consider adding her to his prayers that day. He grabbed me by the arm and took me back toward his desk as he said,”So that’s it. I could tell that something is weighing heavy on your heart today. I could see it in your eyes. This explains it.” From the top drawer of his desk he retrieved a pen and a note card with his seal on it and asked, “How do you spell her name?” I spelled out ‘Loretta’ for him and he jotted a note to her while discussing the importance of family and the strength of prayer.
When he handed me the card, he asked about the surgery and the prognosis. I told him we were hoping that it is not a recurrence of an earlier cancer and that if it is they can get it all with this surgery.<>He said, “If it’s okay with you, we’ll take care of the prayer right now. Would you pray with me?” I told him yes and he turned to the staff that remained in the office and hand motioned the folks to step back or leave. He said,”Bruce and I would like some private time for a prayer.” As they left he turned back to me and took my hands in his. I was prepared to do a traditional prayer stance - standing with each other with heads bowed. Instead, he reached for my head with his right hand and pulling gently forward, he placed my head on his shoulder. With his left arm on my mid back, he pulled me to him in a prayerful embrace. He started to pray softly. I started to cry. He continued his prayer for Loretta and for God’s perfect will to be done. I cried some more. My body shook a bit as I cried and he just held tighter. He closed by asking God’s blessing on Loretta and the family during the coming months.> <>I stepped away from our embrace, wiped my eyes, swiped at the tears I’d left on his shoulder, and looked into the eyes of our President. I thanked him as best I could and told him that me and my family would continue praying for he and his. >
As I write this account down and reflect upon what it means, I have to tell you that all I really know is that his simple act left me humbled – and believing. I so hoped that the man I thought him to be was the man that he is. I know that our nation needs a man such as this in the Oval Office. George W. Bush is the real deal.
I’ve read internet stories about the President praying with troops in hospitals and other such uplifting accounts. Each time I read them I hope them to be true and not an internet perpetuated myth. This one, I know to be true. I was there. He is real. He has a pile of incredible stuff on his plate each day – and yet he is tuned in so well to the here and now that he ‘sensed’ something heavy on my heart. He took time out of his life to care, to share, and to seek God’s blessing for my family in a simple man to man, father to father, son to son, husband to husband, Christian to Christian prayerful embrace.<> He’s not what I had hoped he would be. He is, in fact, so very, very much more.>
Bruce can be contacted at: 406-293-8821 days and 406-293-6137 evenings. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. His wife Patti Jo can be reached at the same numbers and her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.