Geoffrey Folsom

Odessa American

Note: When he was a reporter at the Odessa (Texas) American, the Spokesman’s Geoff Folsom had the opportunity to interview former President George H.W. Bush, who died Nov. 30 at 94, about Bush’s time in West Texas. Here is the story that appeared in the Odessa American in 2007:

Long before there were a Thousand Points of Light or a kinder, gentler nation, there were the oilfields of West Texas and meeting people who would make a lifelong impression.

Just out of Yale University, former President George Herbert Walker Bush moved to Odessa in a red Studebaker in 1948 to take a job as an oilfield supply salesman with Dresser Industries. He brought along wife Barbara Bush and a 1-year-old son named George W. Bush.

“Without hurting anybody’s feelings,” the 41st president of the United States said in a telephone interview, “the people in Odessa had probably never heard of Greenwich, Conn., and I had never heard of Odessa, Texas.

“But it was the smartest thing I ever did,” he said. “It was a great experience. Everyone at the church and in town welcomed us as warmly as if we had lived there our entire lives.”

In 1949, the Bushes moved to California. But they were not away from the Permian Basin long, moving right back to Midland, where they stayed from 1950 until 1959.

The Bush family’s first Midland home was located at 405 East Maple St., known as “Easter Egg Row” for its small, colored homes. Although it may seem small for the home of two future presidents, Bush said it was an improvement over the family’s apartment in Connecticut.

“When we got there we didn’t own a home,” he said. “We thought we’d died and gone to heaven on Easter Egg Row in Midland.

“We didn’t go out there to live high on the hog,” he said.

In Midland, Bush co-founded the Bush-Overbey Oil Development Co. with John Overbey. He said the city was similar to Odessa, but his work was different.

“Odessa was less of a white-collar job,” Bush, 82, said. “My job (there) was wearing a work shirt and jeans.

“I’ll never forget sitting in 110-degree heat on top of an oilfield pumping unit, painting the darn thing,” he said. “The spirit of West Texas was one of, ‘We can do this. Give us a challenge and we’ll succeed.’ ”

The lessons Bush took from his time in West Texas went with him all the way to the White House, he said.

“What I learned transcended what I was doing,” Bush said. “Back in those days, your word was your bond. Your handshake was all you needed.

“I learned a lot about values there,” he said. “I learned a lot about hard work.”

Along with the people, Bush said his favorite part of West Texas was the warm, dry weather.

No doubt, the low point of the Bushes’ years in the area was the death from leukemia of their 3-year-old daughter Robin Bush in 1953.

“We ran the range of emotions while we were there,” George H.W. Bush said. “From joy and happiness to anxiety.”

Not all of Bush’s time was devoted to work. Among his leisure activities were attending Odessa High football games and playing golf.

“I liked to go shoot jackrabbits,” he said. “You could go out pretty readily to the ranches north of town (to shoot).”

In 1959, the Bush family moved to Houston where George H.W. Bush was head of the Zapata Offshore drilling company. But not before many people in the Permian Basin helped him find success in oil, he said.

“It was very satisfying to help start businesses,” Bush said. “There was something challenging about it. The entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well.”

George H.W. Bush was elected for the first of two terms as vice president under Ronald Reagan in 1980. In 1988, he was elected president.

Any city being home to two U.S. presidents is a rare feat, Midland Mayor Mike Canon said. The Bush family, especially George H.W. Bush, did a great deal for the area.

“To some extent, they carry their experience here with them and refer to that in the things they do,” Canon said. “They’ve been great representatives of our community, and they are always welcome here.”