Suburbs remember Bush Sr. as 'gentleman,' 'sweetheart,' 'statesman'
Suburban Republicans remember George H.W. Bush as a World War II hero who quietly changed the world, a man who could easily engage both small-town voters and world leaders as he did in the Gulf War.
"He was humble, smart and caring," said Sam Skinner of Winnetka, a former White House chief of staff and transportation secretary under Bush. "He loved people in all parts of the United States and the world."
Bush, 94, who died at his home Friday night in Houston, served as president from 1989 to 1993.
Skinner was drawn to Bush's ability to connect with people when they became acquainted during Bush's first unsuccessful presidential campaign against Ronald Reagan in 1980.
"He was clearly a statesman," Skinner said. "He had a vision of what he wanted to do, and he had a moral compass. That made him stand out because he was so unique."
Republicans who organized a 1988 rally for Bush at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn say the then-vice president came across as humble and down to earth.
"If you took the title 'president' off the front of his name, you could picture him getting on a train and going downtown to work," said Pat Durante, an aide to former congressman Henry Hyde who met Bush about a dozen times.
Despite his patrician roots, Bush appreciated a good joke and could relate to people in the suburbs, Durante said. "That was his talent. He was able to communicate at our level."
DuPage Circuit Court Clerk Chris Kachiroubas's brief time with Bush at the 1988 rally made a lasting impression.
"He was kind of an extension of Ronald Reagan," Kachiroubas said. "He had his own attitude and ideas. But he had that shine -- that aura -- that came from Reagan.
"When (Bush) extended his hand, you knew that he was talking to you -- not the next person down the line," Kachiroubas said.
Likewise, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin had vivid memories of meeting Bush at O'Hare International Airport in 1992.
"He was coming off Air Force One and I was on the tarmac as a state representative," Cronin said. "He was delightful, charming and engaging."
As a member of Reagan's national advance team while Reagan was running for president in 1980, State Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights remembers the buzz at the Republican convention in Detroit when Bush was chosen as running mate.
"There was some talk about asking former President Gerald Ford," which went nowhere, Harris said. Then, "the thought was that because Bush ran against Reagan for the nomination this was a way to unify the party."
That October, Harris was asked to set up an event for Bush in a New Jersey suburb.
"He was a wonderful ... a joy to work with," Harris recalled.
Instead of a formal speech, organizers decided to have Bush walk down the middle of the street "with people lined up on both sides. It must have driven the Secret Service crazy and I venture to say they wouldn't allow something like that to occur today," Harris said.
But Bush "went with it," strolling along and greeting well-wishers. "He was very open, very low-key. People felt comfortable in his presence," Harris said. He was "a sweetheart of a man."
In addition to presiding during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bush built an international military coalition that liberated Kuwait from Iraq during the Gulf War, which lasted from 1990 to 1991.
Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton was stationed in Germany serving in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War.
"I remember feeling very comfortable with him as commander in chief," she said of Bush, the last president to see combat after serving in World II as a bomber pilot.
Earlier in 1989, Ives watched the Berlin Wall come down as the Cold War began to end. Her battalion was charged with removing chemical weapons out of Germany; they were hauled away and destroyed on a remote island.
"You see what can happen with the right leadership," said Ives, crediting Bush with furthering Reagan's credo of "peace through strength."
Like Bush, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates also flew missions but in the Iraq War where she was wounded and lost two legs. She praised Bush for a major piece of domestic policy -- the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The law has "helped our country become more inclusive and made it possible for people of all abilities to participate in society and lead full, meaningful lives," she said.
Former Lake County Judge Fred Foreman, whom Bush appointed as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, called the president a "class act."
"I think he will be remembered as a gentleman," he said. "I think he will be remembered as someone who thought more about the country than himself."