Bush recalled as ‘gracious,’ ‘pleasant’ during rare 1980 Maui campaign stop

Mauians remember future president as easy to talk to

Nearly 40 years later, Maui attorney Bill Crockett still remembers the impression that presidential candidate George H.W. Bush left when he came to Maui in 1980.

“I have just such a clear recollection of his meeting and going to listen to him and chatting very briefly,” Crockett said. “He was a very gracious guy. I went up and said how much I enjoyed it and shook his hand.”

Crockett recalled Bush’s visit to Maui on Sunday, two days after the former president died at age 94 in his Houston home. Crockett remembered being “very excited about going to listen” to Bush speak, because presidential candidates and elected officials at the national level rarely came to Maui.

While he couldn’t place the exact date, Crockett remembered it was before the July 1980 Republican National Convention. Bush was challenging Ronald Reagan in the Republican primaries, and Crockett thought Bush “had a good chance of getting the nomination.”

Dick Mayer, a geography and economics professor at what was then Maui Community College, also went to hear Bush speak that day, eager to hear his thoughts on China. Bush had just finished a one-year stint as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and had previously served as head of the U.S. Liaison Office in China.

“I was interested to get his perspective,” said Mayer, who had been part of a special group from Hawaii invited to visit China in 1975, a year before the death of Communist Party leader Mao Zedong.

The group that gathered at the Maui Beach Hotel that day to hear Bush speak was not very large, Crockett and Mayer recalled.

“It was a light speech,” Crockett said. “He didn’t get down and bang the gavel. . . . His personality made an impression on me. He just had a very pleasant, outgoing personality.”

Mayer went up to Bush afterward and chatted with him about the changes China was going through. Forty years later, Mayer said it’s easier to remember “the impression more than the words” they exchanged.

“He was a very decent, pleasant person to talk with,” Mayer said. “Not that I talked to that many presidential candidates, but he was easy to talk with.”

Mayer declined to say what he thought of Bush as a president.

While he lost to Reagan in the primaries, Bush would go on to become Reagan’s vice president from 1981 to 1989 before serving as the 41st president from 1989 to 1993, a term characterized by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War that ousted Iraqi forces from Kuwait but raised questions over the decision to leave Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in power.

In October 1990, Bush returned to Hawaii for a weekend to meet with leaders of 11 Pacific nations and to stump for Republican U.S. Rep. Pat Saiki, who eventually lost the 1990 U.S. Senate race to interim Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka. Bush lost his re-election bid to Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 before watching his son George W. Bush go on to succeed Clinton in 2001.

Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush came to Maui in January 2005 to speak at a business conference at the Grand Wailea, according to a Maui News story at the time. They also went on a whale watching cruise during their visit.

A World War II veteran, Bush was also elected to Congress, served as ambassador to the United Nations and chaired the Republican National Committee during the Watergate scandal. His passing comes nearly eight months after the death of his wife of 73 years on April 17.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.