Hundreds of people of all ages from the Brazos Valley and beyond gathered inside the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center midday Wednesday for the unveiling and first-day-of-issue ceremony of the United States Postal Service’s Forever stamp honoring former President George H.W. Bush.
Bush, who died Nov. 30, would have turned 95 Wednesday.
Most of the speakers at the ceremony centered their remarks about Bush’s love of writing notes and letters. Robert “Mike” Duncan, the chairman of the board of governors for the USPS, asked attendees who had received a note from the 41st president to raise their hands. A few dozen hands went up.
“It is especially fitting to honor President Bush with his own stamp, because he truly understood the power of a handwritten letter or note,” Duncan said.
The stamp is based on a 1997 photograph by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders in which President Bush and first lady Barbara Bush appeared on the cover of Texas Monthly magazine at the time of the official opening of the presidential library.
New Orleans-based Artist Michael Deas painted the portrait, which Bush Presidential Library Foundation’s Chief Executive David Jones said Bush selected a few years ago.
Jones said in the event’s opening remarks that in 1847, George Washington became the first U.S. president to be featured on a stamp.
Jean Becker, who worked as Bush’s chief of staff after he left office, said that a few years ago she and other staff members gauged the volume of incoming and outgoing mail and determined that the former president received an average of 200 pieces of mail a day.
“Since 1993, the office had sent an estimated 149,700 congratulatory letters to Eagle Scouts,” Becker said. “We sent  or 300 military retirement letters a month, and since 1993 an estimated 43,500 congratulatory letters were sent for births, weddings, birthdays and anniversaries.”
“He was a great man and he was a brilliant man, but he did not do this alone,” Becker added, to chuckles from many in the audience. Becker, who also served as Barbara Bush’s chief of staff from 1989 to 1992, asked nearly a dozen women who managed the former president’s written communications, including longtime Bush director of correspondence Linda Poepsel, to stand and be recognized for their work.
Becker read excerpts of two letters from Bush: One 2002 letter to AFLAC CEO Dan Amos and one to the former first lady.
“The truth is, I need two more of those tiny, furry AFLAC ducks,” Bush wrote to Amos, according to Becker. The Bushes’ dog at the time had enjoyed playing with the toy, but it had gone missing, Bush said.
Becker next read aloud from the president’s letter to Barbara Bush. To his wife, 49 years after they married, he wrote, “I was very happy on that day in 1945, but I’m even happier today. You’ve given me joy that few men know.”
The ceremony also included musical performances by the Texas A&M University Singing Cadets and Fred McClure, a former A&M student and University System Regent who worked in legislative affairs for Bush and President Ronald Reagan.
Pierce Bush, one of the Bushes’ grandsons and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, said his grandfather “struggled to sometimes articulate how he felt through spoken word or in public speeches, but he never once struggled to express himself fully when penning and mailing a letter.”
Pierce Bush also said that “Gampy,” as Bush’s grandchildren call him, came to more fully understand the human condition through letters. When he served in the U.S. Navy in the 1940s, Bush was occasionally assigned to censor outgoing mail from the enlisted men to ensure no sensitive information was revealed.
“As I did my duty and read the other guys’ mail, I learned a lot about life, and about true love and heartbreak, about fear and courage and the diversity of our great country,” Pierce Bush read aloud from his grandfather’s written words. “The sailors would write their loved ones inquiring about the harvest, or fishing in the stream, or wondering if it was hot in the cities.”
“When I would see a man whose letter I had censored, I would look at him differently and look at him with much more understanding,” Pierce read aloud, emotion filling his voice.
Former ambassador to Qatar Chase Untermeyer worked for President Bush on multiple occasions, with the first coming in 1966 on Bush’s congressional campaign in Houston. Untermeyer said that a few handwritten lines from Bush could mean more than pages of “typed, official sentiment.”
“This is the radical, outside-the-box, terribly effective business technique that President Bush’s life teaches us,” Untermeyer said. “Yes, you can text or email or Instagram people today, and they will be glad you did — but if you really want to make them grateful, those friends, relatives and clients, take out a piece of paper and a pen and write them a few sentences in your own hand.”