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Christmas 2014 077

My life has been embroiled with leadership roles for most of my adult life.  The challenge to unite people, square off with great threats, achieve great gains for the organization and to resolve to press against the ever-present vehemently vicious critic are all a test of the metal that a leader is made.  Reading and watching great leaders in action inspires me to keep leading with determination.

One of the great leaders in my life time has a Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.  Visiting this museum and library of this leader was on my life list.  I was able to check it off with great satisfaction.

After entering the gorgeous grounds with breathtaking views, I remember pausing long at a portrait of President Ronald Reagan as he walked down one of the halls of the White House.  There is something special about leadership that can never be taught and this President possessed it in generous quantity.  It is called “leadership presence.”

There is very little about “leadership presence” that is external.  Instead, it is what exists in the soul of the man or woman who drives their choices, directs their initiatives and most of all manages the values the define their leadership commitments.  Reagan’s beliefs marked his life and leadership.

When a leader faces pressures and attacks, he or she must be able to draw from their own convictions to make choices and decisions to protect and advance the best interests of the organization that they lead.  That is what leadership is.  Anticipation and reaction based upon a consistent set of values that others can follow and embrace.

The influence of this President was also balanced with a whimsical ability to engage the lives of international leaders from around the globe.  His control of power was never carelessly dismissed but blended with discernment, resolve and vision.  He thought the best of this nation and devoted himself to lead it to become better and more positively influential in the world.

If blessing is accompanied with responsibility, then this great leader acted well in light of the extraordinary blessings given to the nation by Almighty God.  He could win the respect and cooperation of the opposing party, sooth the angry critic or stand stalwart against the belligerent opponent.  President Ronald Reagan was a uniquely effective leader and one of the most remarkably gifted Presidents in our nation’s history.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4020My visit to this remarkable place was not brand new.  I had been here once in the past.  A year ago during the opening month, I was here with the pressing crowds.

This time the visit was much more enjoyable.  The lines had shrunk to our scheduled window printed on our tickets.  We wanted to catch a look at the additional wing of the George Bush Presidential Library.

On our first visit the crowds had packed the museum.  We skipped the Oval Office wing due to the very long lines.  This time we got to the museum close to the opening hour.

We skipped the opening sequence of pictures and videos.  43 traces his entry into the White House.  He shares the events that shaped his Presidency.

The next stop was the initial years leading the nation.  Laura’s focus on literacy and George’s past with baseball was fun.  We lingered here again as we did during our first trip.

IMG_4021When we rounded the corner determined to visit what we missed a year ago, our swift walk slowed to an eventual halt.  In the center of the display were some of the twisted I-beams retrieved from the rubble of the Twin Towers destroyed during the 9-11 attack on our country.  Pictures, videos and audio presentations swirled the deep feelings from that horrible day.

The words of President George Bush defined so much of his leadership and one our nation’s rare moments of unity.  Together we drew together as a nation.  Politics were quieted.

Yes, the haranguing between Washington D.C. professional biased parties drummed the cadence of a nation that would stand together against an external threat.  Our nation even gathered for prayer and services that called on the name of God.  Hymns were sung.

Evil people who launched a wicked lethal attack against innocent civilians had polluted the soil of our nation with their dastardly plans.  Terror had taken advantage of a free nation and free people.  There was no bravery or chivalry by these who stole, plotted and murdered.

My eyes scanned these old pieces of twisted steel.  I listened to President Bush speak to our nation and the world.  He spoke on our behalf and promised to do his duty to bring all of our nation’s strength to bear against the cowards who unleashed an ugly cowardly act of war on our country.

Always remember.  This picture of steel will be in my mind forever.  My spirit is stirred.

photo credit: brucefong photography

For a long time I have hoped to visit a Presidential library.  History gets muddled in the spin from the media and pundits.  Citizens of our great nations are almost afraid to expression appreciation for any public figure, dreading the ire that will pour forth from the gaping mouths of throats dredging up junk.

Now, away from the limelight and living the quiet life of a private citizen, George H. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, is passing his final days with his family.  Volunteers at the library speak so warmly of this first couple.  A number of them called them “real” people.  They are touted as full of warmth and joy.

I asked the President where he turned for guidance during troubled times.  He told me that he turned to his faith where he never failed to find solace, courage and encouragement to keep on leading.  Personally, he added that it was family that counted the most.

Then, he also wrote clearly that he wanted to add friends to that short list.  He repeated the trio with confidence.  When times were tough he found that his faith, family and friends gave him all that he needed to keep encouraged to do his duty.  It was succinct and potent.

Thinking deeply, he quoted Lincoln, “Everyone who serves as President must spend time on his knees.” 

As the life of this remarkable man unfolded in his museum, I wondered how he would portray his failed attempt for reelection.  He had a great deal of success during his first term.  But, the odd third-party intrusion tipped the scale toward another winner.

Even in disappointment he said that he never looked on the Presidency as an entitlement.  He did his best, he was not successful at his reelection but he was not bitter.  Simply, he said they went back their house in Texas and kept on living and making a difference in the lives of people where they could.

Does humility count?  Can an effective leader be honorable both in service and retirement?  Once the political rhetoric dies down and people can return to their humanity, can good people still be good once again?

I have looked into the eyes of the critical, the wicked and the self-absorbed self-righteous who believe that their opinion has value and defines the truth.  But, once their worst is done, good people keep on making a difference.  They who are good keep on helping others.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Back through the courtyard the sculpture was dominant.  Some where in the back of my mind I had seen a photo of this artwork but couldn’t quite place the significance.  Once we were done inside, we would return and take it in; right now it was too hot to be outside.

Do have those moments when your memory just can’t seem to sift through all of the data that is in its storage cells?  It keeps whispering little chuckles with looks of surprise that you can’t recall the information immediately.  Even going through the alphabet doesn’t jog your memory.

We entered the George H. Bush Library in College Station, Texas.  It was a first for us both; it was our very first visit to a Presidential library.  The entrance into the rotunda was grand.

Overhead was a spectacular hexagon skylight.  Flooding the entry and opening gallery floor with natural light, it welcomed all visitors.  I sat in that area while my bride spent some time in the gift shop.

I struck up a conversation with one of the volunteers.  He was eager to join in a conversation. I saw my chance to satisfy my curiosity about the sculpture.

Casually, I remarked on the horse statues as striking and spectacular in capturing movement in static time.  It memorialized the determination and vigor of stallions on the run.  The fixation of the monument needed satisfaction in my mind.

He smiled and started on a helpful discourse that awakened my memory.  This statue commemorated the coming down of the Berlin wall.  The leaping and running steeds captured the spirit of those who were suppressed in the East now leaping over the crumbled wall and speeding toward freedom.

Then he added, “Did you know that there is an identical piece in Germany?  Two of the same in both countries so none of us will ever forget.”  That fact is powerful.

At the end of our tour of the inside of the library and museum, we exited the building and walked over to view the statue.  Our cameras were popping photos and we marvelled at all that the symbols were portraying.  We were in Scotland when the wall came down.

Our vivid recollection was captured with news reports and constant stories of the celebration around the world.  That was a moment in history when everyone from every nation marvelled at that historic expression of liberty.  We should always remember.

photo credit: brucefong photography