Classmates remember Bush the personality

When George W. Bush announced his candidacy for president of the United States in 1999, many members of HBS’s Class of 1975 rallied to support their classmate with their time and money. Many were tantalized by the bragging rights and some agreed with his politics. April Hoxie Foley, however, had other motives.

April Hoxie was introduced to Bush by their mutual friend Gifford Foley during their first year at HBS. Hoxie was quickly attracted by Bush’s lack of pretense. “George was very different from other people at HBS at that time,” she says. “Many people were playing with the accoutrements of power. They smoked Benson & Hedges and drank Chivas Regal. He was into Copenhagen and Wild Turkey. He is a no bullshit guy. I found him refreshing.”

Hoxie and Bush dated for several weeks, going to parties and playing cards. “He loved [country & western singer] Johnny Rodriguez. He’d play that over and over in his car, which he called ‘Paint’ and treated as if it were his horse. He drank too much, but then maybe we all did.”

While Bush’s rough exterior had its appeal, Hoxie was really drawn to a more tender side. “He’s very fond of his family and attached to them,” Hoxie says. “One day he came over to my place – a house in Cambridge with five women. He came and read a letter from his mother,” who was in China, where Bush’s father was serving as Richard Nixon’s special envoy. “His mother sounded lonely and George was worried. It was endearing.”

Hoxie eventually married Gifford Foley and the Foleys kept in touch with Bush in the years following graduation. But in 1990, Gifford Foley died in a plane crash. April Hoxie Foley and her three children were devastated. A friend offered April that she and the kids take a vacation at the friend’s house in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Foley knew the Bush family also had a place in Kennebunkport and she called on the off chance that her old friend George might there. Bush answered and said, “Why don’t you come over and meet the president!” So Foley and her three kids visited the Bush house, where they were introduced to then-President George Bush and went for a ride in the family’s cigarette boat. “It was above and beyond the call of duty,” Foley says now. “He could have just sent flowers.”

So when Foley’s brother-in-law called nine years later to ask if she wanted to help with a fundraising event he was organizing for George W. Bush’s presidential bid, she quickly said yes. “I wanted to give something back,” says Foley, who has followed a career in planning at Pepsico with philanthropic work. Foley invited HBS classmates to form a table at the event in Greenwich, Conn. “We put together like 14 tables. It was the easiest fundraiser I’ve ever helped organize.”

About 25 members of Section C, HBS Class of ’75, congregated at the inauguration in Washington last weekend to support their sectionmate and reminisce. One of them was William “Hatch” Randall, who played on an intramural basketball team Bush led. “I practiced quite a bit,” Randall recalls. “But one day another guy showed up who was better than I was. George took me aside and said, ‘Hatch, I’m going to start so-and-so.’ He looked me in the eye and said this is what I’m going to do. He asked the tough questions and addressed them straight on. What you see is what you get with George.”

In the classroom, most of his sectionmates saw a student who stood out less for his intellect than for his charisma. “I don’t remember any dufus-like statements or any gems,” says John Fischer.
“He was in the great middle,” Professor Howard Stevenson, who had Bush in an elective course called Real Property Asset Management, says of Bush’s academic performance. “Between classes, some students go through their notebooks. He was always making friends.”
“He had this personality that people liked,” Lorraine Milner says of her sectionmate. “George was very even-tempered, the most laid-back person I knew there.” During their second year, Milner talked Bush into joining a group project in a marketing course // “None of [our group] were very interested in marketing. I knew George was not very interested in marketing and wouldn’t get stressed, so I said, that’s a man I want in this group. He was a real team player. He did his part, pulled his weight.”

It was not as though Bush did not attract attention. “He chewed tobacco in class all the time. I don’t think I ever saw him without it,” Milner says. “George was the guy from Texas planning to go back to Texas. So far as I know, he didn’t even look for a job.”

Foley says that Bush had come to HBS with his sites already set on politics. “I remember him telling me, ‘A lot of people think the Bush family has money replica watches. Some families like the Rockefellers have a company that goes on and provides them money from trust funds. The Bushes don’t. I have to make enough money so that I can go into politics.’ He viewed business as a way to establish the financial platform from which he could move into politics.”