Lessons from a Pro: First Lady Barbara Bush

Lessons from a Pro: First Lady Barbara Bush

“And here’s what you’re going to do while you’re in Africa. You’re going to take down the names and telephone numbers and addresses of the parents of every volunteer and then when you get home, you’re going to sit down and go through that list and call every last one of them and tell them what a sensational job their child is doing and how grateful we all are for their service. George and I do this every time we go to a Peace Corps country. George writes a note, I do the talking.”

The first time I met First Lady Barbara Bush, I was about to embark on my initial trip overseas for Peace Corps. Her advice for travel in West Africa ranged from the political to the practical. Aside from those telephone calls I’d make when I got home, I should wear a khaki skirt, she said. Jeans might make people think Peace Corps officials were hippies, she whispered.

I knew then that we’d be friends, as I was probably the only person in the developed world who (at that time), didn’t have a pair of jeans to pack in the first place.

Lessons from a Pro: First Lady Barbara Bush by Deedie Runkel Scone by Scone
Deedie Runkel sporting her Khakis

Mrs. Bush’s counsel stayed with me throughout my eight years as a Peace Corps staff member. Whenever I got on an airplane with my passport, I knew my mission would not be complete until after I returned and phoned the families of volunteers. One of the first calls I made when I got back from Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania was to a family two exits away on the Washington beltway. Their daughter Joyce had been my host for a week in her small village a day’s drive away from Dakar. Neither the village nor Joyce knew quite what to do with me, but we managed to make it through with a lot of smiling and laughing. The village treated Joyce as one of their own; the chief told me she was a trésor.

When I told Joyce’s mother her daughter whom she hadn’t seen in nearly two years was considered a treasure by her “boss,” she became tearful.

I had exactly the same reaction when I found Joyce and her family having breakfast at Anne Hathaway’s more than 25 years later. We both regaled the other guests with stories of our time together so many years before. Joyce’s dissertation — The African Woman Farmer and Her Choice of Crops — seemed particularly poignant, and you can read why in the “Small Worlds” chapter of Scone by Scone.

Joyce told the guests, “Deedie even called my parents when she got home.”
I should have demurred and said I was actually making the call on Barbara Bush’s behalf.

Today I am feeling tremendously thankful for this remarkable woman’s determination to make sure all are acknowledged for all they do.

A phone call will do.

Lessons from a Pro First Lady Barbara Bush

Lessons from a Pro First Lady Barbara Bush