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Americares President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis leads a health-focused relief and development organization that saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster.
The view out the window at the Bush family summer home on the coast of Kennebunkport, Maine, was amazing. The sea disappeared into the fog offshore. Waves rolled up against the rocky coast. Windswept trees and maritime shrubs gave testament to the rawness of local weather. It took my breath away.
More amazing than the view outside, though, was the view inside. In August 2017, I sat on a couch across from a former president and First Lady who had welcomed us into their living room as friends.
President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush were our friends. Not mine, personally, though I wish I had had the chance to know them well. Rather, they were dear friends of the organization I lead. President Bush was a childhood friend and classmate of Americares founder, Bob Macauley. When Macauley, a successful businessman, contemplated launching an organization to carry out humanitarian missions, he sought the counsel of his long-time friend. “Go for it, Bob,” was Bush’s admonition. Macauley did go for it. Nearly 40 years later, Americares continues to carry out Bob Macauley’s vision.
President and Mrs. Bush, who passed away in April 2018, remained close to Bob and his wife, Leila.
They supported Americares in a variety of ways as the organization grew and developed, attending key events, participating in overseas missions, serving as ambassadors, opening doors to key people and generally helping to raise the profile of the organization.
We discussed all of this with the Bushes when we met in Kennebunkport. A small delegation from Americares went to Maine to present them with a humanitarian award named in honor of their friends the Macauleys. I felt the warmth of the Bushes that I’ve read so much about that day, especially when Barbara looked over at my wife, Sandy, who was six months into a battle with cancer, and said, “You have such a lovely smile.”
I have read a lot about President Bush in the past few days since he passed away in the company of his family in Texas. I’ve learned more about his humility, that he’d rather talk about you than himself. I have been reminded of his sterling resume as a war hero and public servant. News reports trumpeted his major policy accomplishments, like the Americans with Disabilities Act. Critics took him to task for some of his political tactics and policy choices.
I take this away: George H.W. Bush wasn’t perfect, and he would have been the first to admit that. But he was warm and caring, committed to family, friends and those with whom he worked. He gave everything he had in service to his country, succeeded in many ways and moved others to do good workand great things.
Among those George H.W. Bush inspired was Americares founder. Bush’s words, “Go for it, Bob” launched Americares. Four decades later, and in honor of President Bush this week, we recommit ourselves to that call to action, to reach out with purpose and passion to meet the humanitarian needs of people who are suffering here at home and around the world.