A Call from the First Lady
Updated: Oct 2, 2018
In response to a request for an interview, made through her social secretary, First Lady Barbara Bush picked up the phone and called the author directly.
Our first visit to the White House coincided with a party that Barbara Bush was giving for the Congressional wives in the spring of 1992. The Marine Band was playing, as we made our memorable entrance and were ushered down the stairs to the Curator’s Office.
It was not the only memory I have of Mrs. George Bush. I had requested, of her social secretary, an interview with the First Lady, for my book. Sadly, I was told, that Mrs. Bush was very busy- she traveled a lot and most likely would be unable to speak with me. Nevertheless, the request was passed on to Mrs. Bush.
I will never forget the day before Thanksgiving in 1995.
I picked up the phone to hear a voice say, “May I speak with Mary Seeley, this is Barbara Bush!” What a delight she was, as she reminisced about her years in the White House. She has a great sense of humor and we laughed at her outlook on things. I had read “A Memoir” by Barbara Bush and was familiar with many of the stories she shared, but loved hearing them first-hand from the First Lady.
I congratulated her on the unique choices she had made for their Christmas cards. In 1989, for the first time, she chose art created by a White House insider – calligrapher, Bill Gemmel. In 1990, for the first time, the Oval Office was depicted on the official Christmas card. In 1991, for the first time, the family quarters were showcased on their Christmas card. In 1992, for the first time, the National Christmas Tree appeared on the official card, which was painted by her friend, Kamil Kubik, a Czechoslovakian artist. Each design had a story that brought it to life.
My favorite story, as told by Barbara Bush, was her first impression of Mark Hampton’s rendition of the Oval Office. “There in the painting was Millie sprawled out on the blue carpet. I told Mark, that when you send a Christmas card to Heads of State and Ambassadors around the world, ‘you don’t want a dog in the picture’.”
She asked Hampton to repaint the Oval Office. When I spoke at the Bush Library in 1997, I particularly wanted to see the first version of the card art, it was hanging in their private quarters.
Learn more about this story and more Bush family traditions in my book "Season's Greetings from the White House."