The following op-ed piece was submitted by Brownwood native Roy Spence, CEO of The Purpose Institute
On Dec. 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami impacted 11 countries and killed nearly 230,000 people, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. President George W. Bush was in office and Mark McKinnon, a longtime consultant of his and a great, lifelong friend of mine, reached out to me to help write and produce a PSA to raise awareness and solicit contributions which would feature former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Both men agreed to do the spot, and I rounded up a team, including my film partners Mike Blair and Rocky Powell, and we flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, to film it. President Clinton had recently recovered from his quadruple bypass surgery, and President Bush sat down with him before the filming and as my crews were setting up. We were all in awe of the genuine and outwardly demonstrative empathy President Bush had with President Clinton. We were also amazed from afar by the stories they shared, the easy laughter and their shared sense of purpose.
I visited with both presidents about the scripts and began filming. Because they were both pros, we were done in about 45 minutes. Then another amazing thing happened. President Bush looked up at me and said, “I know you have been close friends with Bill and Hillary for years…thank you for volunteering to do this PSA…tell me about your family.”
So, I did. President Clinton contributed to the conversation as well, and it was great fun. Then I said to President Bush, “Yep, trying to get home tonight because it is my son Shay’s 15th birthday.” President Bush looked at me, then at President Clinton, and said, “Well, get going— but before you do, Bill and I will do a happy birthday wish to your son Shay.” And, with the camera rolling once more, they did just that.
Years later, First Lady Barbara Bush and other Bush family members would say that was the day that Bill Clinton became a part of their family and also the day that George H. W. Bush became not just a fellow former president to Bill Clinton, and not just a friend, but a father figure as well. Soon after the PSA was done, the two presidents joined together in a tour of the tsunamiravaged nations, deepening their bond as they spread the word about this immense tragedy and the need for aid.
This example of Purpose Over Politics is the real and inspiring story of America when we and our leaders are at our best. President George H. W. Bush and President Bill Clinton; yes, they were opponents in the political arena—even going toe‐to‐toe in the presidential election of 1992—but they became partners in Purpose in the Purpose arena every time there was a higher calling.
When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, I filmed other PSAs with former Presidents Bush and Clinton, once again raising awareness and contributions. And when Hurricane Ike hit Galveston and Houston, the presidential PSA partners again answered the call.
Then came Labor Day 2017, when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and Hurricane Irma hit Florida. I was asked to coordinate PSAs with all five former presidents to help the victims of those massive hurricanes. With the help of my daughter, Courtney Spence, and the leadership of all the staffs of all the former presidents—especially Jim McGrath, who helped craft the actual messages—we were able to create moving and impactful spots that called attention the dire circumstances in which nature’s fury had left the residents of the affected areas.
Confined to a wheelchair but standing tall as he always did in every arena he occupied, George H. W. Bush was quick as ever to respond to the need to help people hurt by these disasters.
This is the story in which I was blessed to play a small part.
President George H. W. Bush truly lived a life of Great Purpose because he always answered the call.