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Local Chamber CEO shares memories of working for President Bush, plans to attend Houston memorial service

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Before joining the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce as its president and CEO in 2010, Craig Whitney spent several years working for former President George H. W. Bush. Whitney will attend a memorial service for Bush Thursday, Dec. 6, in Houston. Forum file photo2 / 3
Craig Whitney3 / 3

FARGO — Although he admits he should have been prepared, news of the recent death of former President George H. W. Bush came as a blow to Craig Whitney.

“Even though in the minds of us close to him and to the nation death is imminent when you’re 94 years old, it still comes as a shock,” he said. “I’ve been glued to the computer and the phone and TV since Friday night when we got the news.”

Before joining the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce as president and CEO in 2010, Whitney spent several years working for the former president and was invited to attend his memorial service Thursday, Dec. 6, at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. Bush will also be honored at a state funeral at 10 a.m. CDT Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the National Cathedral in Washington. Most major news outlets will broadcast it live.

Whitney, a native of Iowa, began working for Bush in 1985 during the lead-up to the Iowa Caucus. He did advance work for the then-vice president, which essentially means he coordinated all aspects of his travel with the Secret Service and others.

After Bush was elected in 1988, Whitney accepted a position as assistant press secretary to Vice President Dan Quayle. He was later promoted to assistant to the vice president and director of advance. Both were White House positions, so Whitney continued to interact with Bush throughout his presidency.

Prior to a Chamber event Tuesday, Dec. 4, at the Courtyard by Marriott in Moorhead, Whitney sat down with The Forum to speak about his time in the White House and his memories of the former president.

When asked what he admired most about Bush, Whitney said it would be impossible to name just one thing. If forced, he pointed to his character as what he admired most.

Whitney praised Bush for his successful, 73-year marriage to Barbara and his close relationship with his family. He described Bush as “genuine,” “down to earth” and “easy to talk to” — all traits that served him well in his personal and political life.

“I’ll always remind people that when he served as president, the Democrats controlled both the House and Senate. So, when that happens with a Republican president, it can be difficult to get things done,” Whitney said. “I think oftentimes people lose site of the fact that he had a very, very successful presidency and was involved in some major legislation. That was done and it all happened because of his keen ability to know people, to get to know them, and to build the relationships.”

The last time Whitney spoke to Bush was about nine years ago when he and Quayle traveled to College Station, Texas, to visit the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library, where he enjoyed an intimate lunch with the president. He returned to the library a few years later with other senior staff to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his inauguration.

“That was a very moving time and probably the last time I saw him in person” because of his failing health, he said.

Whitney said he considers Bush one of the “most qualified” presidents in modern times.

“I think he’ll go down in history as one of our best presidents.”

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LIVE: President George H.W. Bush funeral