A Tribute to My Heroine
By Leah M. Christie
Who in their right mind would refuse a check from Barbara Bush?
Me. Yep. That would be me.
And I have been richly blessed by her ever since.
Now, you may know Barbara Bush as the former First Lady to the president or Second Lady to the vice president or the mother of a president or the Bush Family Matriarch. You may even be so lucky to know Mrs. Bush as your personal friend.
But, know this…You don’t really know Barbara Bush until you’re 18 years old and you’ve refused her personal check, in front the Secret Service, in front of a very busy department store packed with Saturday customers where you’re a brand new manager trainee, in front of all the store’s clerks, and in front of visiting upper management of your company and certainly in front of your own store manager.
In my defense, as a politically aware 18-year old Houstonian in the mid-1980’s, I certainly did know who Barbara Bush was. I absolutely recognized the wife of the Vice President, Barbara Pierce Bush, who was known for her pearls, her gloriously coiffed hair of silver, her known abilities to command a crowd merely with her presence and even more so with her voice, and for living near the Galleria store where I worked. On that day, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma when I was paged to go and approve a personal check in the cosmetics department and came face to face with the customer who was the one and only, Mrs. Barbara Bush. Walking past all the men in black of her security detail, I was not nervous. I was not silly. I did not giggle even once. I was the calm, cool, collected professional. What I was not counting on was that Mrs. Bush had written an out-of-town check and the letter-of-the-law company policy was that such checks had to be approved at the rank of the store manager, and that rank I did not hold. In fact, I was on the bottom rung of management, if that, as a manager trainee.
Wanting to accommodate Mrs. Bush, but not break the rules, I chose to punt. After briefly explaining that I needed to have the proper authority come and sign the check, I dashed across the way to fetch my store manager, who was standing nearby in the jewelry department, with a visiting company official.
As I approached my store manager and asked if she would like the opportunity to meet Mrs. Bush and approve the check, the flashes of lightning coming out of my manager’s eyes and her rebuking me in a volume that I was certain was audible not only throughout my store but also in the Luby’s Cafeteria next door, made it crystal clear that I was in some difficulty. With gnashing teeth and a raised pointed finger, my store manager instructed me to: “GO SIGN THE BLEEPITY-BLEEP CHECK!” That I did, with remarkable speed…and my tears were coming almost as fast as my feet were moving.
Not wanting to bring any more attention to myself or Mrs. Bush, I scribbled my initials on the back of her check and bolted for the nearby stockroom where I collected myself and then carried on with the rest of my day. About two weeks later, while checking in the day’s shipments of new goods, I heard my store manager call my name. “Leah! You’re never going to believe who wrote me. I got a letter from Barbara Bush.” Glancing back, I saw she was holding an open letter which she began to read:
It was lovely to be in your store again recently. Please don’t be so hard on your young manager. I know she was only doing her job.”
Stunned and overwhelmed, I realized I had been delivered by the grace of Mrs. Bush and I could never thank her enough for her distinguished and merciful response. She turned my unforgettable experience of all that took place during our chance encounter into her unforgettable consummate gift of charity.
The infamous story of my legendary faux pas went viral inside my own world almost immediately and continued to spread for decades to come as a hilarious admittance of my own telling. But, my favorite part of sharing my account of the day that I refused the personal check of Barbara Bush is sharing that instead of being offended at my inconveniencing of her, or being embarrassed by my naiveté, she was neither, nor was she even the least bit pretentious. What I get to share is that she was fiercely kind in my defense.
In addition to all the other tributes being offered to Mrs. Bush, I felt compelled at this tender time of her passing, to add my own witness of the truth that this woman, indeed, was Christlike…even to a stranger. Barbara Bush, the wife of the Vice President of the United States, was forgiving and compassionate, even to a stranger who was young and dumb and who had been publicly reprimanded into approving her check. Yes, indeed, I was most fortunate to have truly known Barbara Bush. One of my own life’s goals is to live my life paying forward this personal gift that she gave to me.
|by Leah M. Christie|
Leah M. Christie is the directing founder of a civics awareness and political media project called @NotOnThisWatch on Facebook and Twitter.