/Willie Morris and George HW Bush A friendship

Willie Morris and George HW Bush A friendship

Willie Morris, a writer, was born in Yazoo City. He studied at Oxford, England, and the University of Texas. He was never wealthy. He was a liberal Democrat. Despite their differing political backgrounds, Bush and Morris became close friends. Despite their differences, they shared two common passions: books and baseball, in particular. They shared at least one trait: they were both letter writers, and that is how they got to know each other. They became pen pals. They were pen pals: the Mississippi senator Thad Cochran, later a senator, and the late Sonny Montgomery. Morris, who was 64, died far too early in 1999. He would have been 84 this week. Bush, 94, died last Friday. Bush’s funerals will be held today in Washington D.C. and on Thursday in Texas. *** The photo shown above was taken on June 8, 1948. Babe Ruth, baseball’s greatest legend, fell to the ground and was ill from cancer. He handed the manuscript of his autobiography, which he had written, to George Herbert Walker Bush, Yale’s first baseman. Ruth would die only nine weeks later. As part of their ongoing correspondence, which apparently began as Bush was a U.S. citizen, forty-two years later, Bush would send Willie Morris a signed copy. The correspondence began in 1968 when Congressman Morris was born and continued until Morris’s passing in 1999. We have a glimpse into the lives of both men through their correspondence. Much of it is kept in the Willie Morris special collection at the Ole Miss Library. Both men loved baseball. Their correspondence began in 1968, a full year after Morris’s beloved memoir North Toward Home was published in 1967. Bush wrote Morris what amounts a fan letter. The letter starts with: Dear Willie Morris. We have never met and I am sorry for that. Bush continues to read North Toward Home and gives a book review – a real review – of Morris’s book. Bush calls it a “fan letter book review”. Willie Morris is a warm-hearted author. It makes everything come to life. He is passionate about people and sports, even though he’s a New York-based literary figure, but he still cares. He will never forget the feeling of a line drive from left to right. Bush described Willie Morris as warm, funny and passionate about people and sports. It seems that these same words could also be used to describe our 41st president, as shown by Bush’s letters. Bush later wrote to Morris: I know many of the people in your book. While I can agree with some of the conclusions, I would probably disagree with the author regarding others. After much deliberation, I came to the painful conclusion that even the most committed liberals can be suspicious and arrogant. I feel that he is more critical of conservatives than he is of liberals who seem so sure they are right. This is a crime committed by the right wing, but it is also a crime committed by the left. Willie Morris is more friendly to the left. This is about as contentious as Bush can get. North Toward Home is a wonderful and sensitive book. It is also a hopeful book Willie Morris will make you want to share a beer and chat with him. He isn’t scary or big on words. End of the report. Bush closes the first letter by saying: If you ever come to Washington, I would be happy to buy you lunch and introduce to you two young republicans who care. – George Bush. They continued to correspond throughout Bush’s term in congress, eight years as his vice-presidency and finally his presidency. One of Bush’s vice-presidential letters, written on the back a schedule, expresses his gratitude for Morris’s book, Always Stand In Against The Curve. Bush wrote: Pardon my stationery. I’m riding with Prime Minister Ghandi on AFII. He’s resting. I’m reading Stand in Against the Curve. Bush’s letter describes his participation in an old-timers game at Denver, where he batted against Warren Spahn. I hadn’t swing a bat for years and had never been under the arcs. I popped up. Then, I lined up a single Milt Pappas. Bush later wrote: I called my children, all grown men to tell them. They didn’t seem to care. Never mind, I’ll never forget it. Bush often wrote to Morris about the pressures and demands of his job and his appreciation for Morris’s work. Bush wrote Jan. 7, 1990, shortly before assuming the presidency, and after having read Morris’s Good Old Boy. I would be jumping up and down like a spring colt if it wasn’t for the deficit. The potential for a peaceful world is very real to me. After a thorough review, I will work hard to ensure that our relations with Soviets continue on a prudent path. His professionalism and integrity are admirable. . . . I will work at home for a more gentle nation. But, those who only measure it in terms of federal funds may find disappointment (deficit and deficit, deficit). Bush concludes: I don’t want to burden you with all of this. Instead, I just want to thank you and wish you good luck. Sincerely George Bush. JoAnne Prichard Morris is Willie’s wife. She fondly recalls how Bush enjoyed their back and forth. JoAnne Morris states, “Clearly they enjoyed each other’s company, even though it was mostly in letter form.” Anyone who has ever studied the politics of Bush or Willie knows that they were often at odds. They shared common ground in sports (especially baseball) and their love of books and people. Willie and JoAnne visited the White House in 1990 to attend a state dinner hosted by Bush for the queen and king of Jordan. Two forms of identification were required by the White House secret service when they arrived at the east gate. Willie’s friends from high school will be delighted to hear that he used both his driver’s licence and his ACLU membership card. JoAnne states that they had a great time. Willie said to Barbara Bush, “It was a long distance to get to dinner. But it was worth it.” Willie also often sent Bush books, not just his own. He also sent Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, and naturally, The Art of Baseball and the 1990 edition of Baseball Encyclopedia. Later, he sent his It’s Only a Game. Bush also sent Willie a Topp’s special edition baseball card featuring Bush at Yale as a thank you. Bush wrote to Willie in December 1992, as he was nearing the end of his presidency. Thank you for the book. Thank you for your kind words. Looking ahead, I wish I had taken a few seminars on writing from Prof Willie Morris. I take the book with me on long flights today. I hope we meet in 1993, a year of great change for Barbara as well as me. I also hope it is a happy year for you. P.S. Willie here’s a baseball card. It is one of a hundred. It is yours. One was listed at several thousand. Don’t be afraid to rely on my batting average. It is hard to imagine Willie laughing at that last line. We wish we could have Willie’s perspective on all of this correspondence. We long for more civility and dignity in a world where politics and politicians are so vicious and vile.