Sometimes it seems like famous or important people are always acting according to a script. Their polish and poise is unbreakable, and their manners are impeccable.
But there are times when they go decidedly off-script and surprise the people around them. When President George H.W. Bush decided to sponsor a child in the Philippines, people were left puzzled and wondering if he could, being president and all.
“To everybody’s surprise, all of a sudden George Sr. raises his hand in the middle of his security entourage and says, ‘I want one!'” said then-president of Compassion International, Wess Stafford. “The packet was passed down to him, and all of these security people were like, ‘Has anybody screened this? Does anybody know if this is OK or not?'”
Apparently it was — with certain stipulations. Fearing for the recipient’s safety, it was decided that the president should use a pen name with his pen pal: “George Walker” it was.
“He really threw himself into it. He would write to little Timothy and Timothy would write to him, and anything that Timothy said that was interesting, President Bush would write right back with a comment on it,” said Stafford.
“You know, ‘Thank you for the picture of that beautiful rainbow. You know, we had a rainbow like that right outside my house just last week.’ He was everything that we wish all of our sponsors would be. He was engaged in this little child’s life.”
He found out that Timothy was an aspiring artist, and sent art supplies with a Compassion International worker who was making a trip to the Philippines. The organization didn’t allow sponsors to send things to the children because it turned out to be more of a hassle, but who says no to a president?
“They can send money, and the little local church will go with the family and buy a gift locally,” Stafford explained. “But because this was kind of special handling, this package shows up in my office with all kinds of art stuff, so I gave it to one of our staff who was traveling and said, ‘Hand-carry this to the Philippines.'”
That wasn’t the only time he pushed against the rules, though. He already had a pseudonym, but the president couldn’t help letting little hints slip through in the letters he diligently hand-wrote to the boy. Stafford recalled those moments with a laugh.
“The first time he started breaking our little security rules was when he sent a picture of his dog, Millie, and he added, ‘This is Millie. She’s met lots of famous people.’ And I thought, ‘OK, that’s cute, but boy, that’s starting to slip some little secrets in there.'”
“And then years later, he wrote, ‘We’re going to have Christmas this year with my son at his house.’ And then he adds, ‘Oh, and he lives in a big, white house.’ And I’m like, ‘Come on, Mr. President. You are really pushing the envelope here.'”
Eventually Timothy’s sponsorship was passed from Bush to Stafford’s executive assistant. Angie Lathrop went to visit the teenage Timothy in 2010, and she had a big secret to tell him.
“‘Your former sponsor is someone that I know pretty well, and he was the president of the United States,'” she told him, according to Stafford. “And Timothy, he was so dumbfounded, he was speechless. And he says, ‘Well, I knew that he was a kind and encouraging, wonderful man, but I had no idea.'”
“And I thought, you know, to a child in poverty, it’s amazing enough that anyone would care about them but it was beyond his wildest imagination and even his ability to comprehend that the president of the United States knew his name.”
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