Former Arlington Mayor Richard Greene gets a private tour of the new Bush library

Posted Wednesday, May. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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When Richard Greene first met George W. Bush in 1988 during a visit to Arlington to campaign for his father’s presidential bid, little did the former Arlington mayor imagine that they would become friends while forging the public/private partnership to build Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

He also didn’t expect some 15 years later that he would receive a presidential appointment by Bush to serve a five-year role in the president’s administration as the regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

During last week’s festivities surrounding the opening of the Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, the two men met again for a time of congratulations and reminiscing.

Greene and wife Sylvia took time last Friday to answer questions about their experience as guests at the invitation-only events at the sprawling library complex.

Were you expecting the invitation to the Bush Presidential Center opening ceremony?

As a Bush administration alumni, I knew the invitation was coming. We actually got the invitation electronically from the alumni website. It included an invitation to attend several events — the dedication ceremony, a dinner, the lighting ceremony and a private tour of the facility. During the ceremonies we were seated in front of a large screen, and we could see the stage.

Was there an opportunity to see some of the arriving dignitaries?

People were allowed to move around before and during the event, and we moved at one point to a spot where we saw some of the arriving platform guests and family members as their car drove past. I didn’t recognize many but I think I did recognize Jeb Bush and the Carters.

The security surrounding them was extraordinary. There were lots of black SUVs and even an arsenal-type van. The media presence was phenomenal and interesting to watch. The only thing in our experience that compares to it were the events surrounding the inauguration.

Describe what happened at the alumni event.

It was held in the quadrangle under a gigantic tent with food stations. Only a few hundred people were there. This was a more personal event for people who served in the Bush administration.

It was sort of a barbecue setting — with hot dogs, hamburgers — typical Texas fare. The tables were decorated with lots of red, white and blue.

When the president arrived with Laura and former Vice President Dick Cheney, I was able to take a picture of them, and he waved to me in greeting.

Cheney told a couple of humorous stories, and then the president spoke and it was a far more personal sort of connection with the crowd than his dedication speech. He said the presidency wasn’t about the person, but about the team of dedicated people who cared about their country and were willing to serve upon his call.

It was a very warm “thank you for your service” sort of talk.

He stayed about 40 minutes or so at the event. Typically the president makes remarks and leaves, but on this occasion he very enthusiastically plunged into the crowd and seemed so appreciative.

Did you get to speak privately with President Bush?

When he left the stage, he was very patient and congenial with people there. Sylvia and I were able to engage him in conversation. We talked Rangers, we talked about this historic event and how proud we were to be there, and about what an honor it was to have served in his administration.

A couple of people who were nearby during our conversation jokingly said, “It looked like y’all knew each other pretty well.” It was an up-close, personal-experience.

Sylvia, what did you like most about the alumni dinner?

I especially enjoyed visiting with people from across the country. There were lots of young staffers there, and it was neat to visit with others about their experiences.

I sat next to a young woman from New York who was on the communications staff at the White House. She was there with her father.

What was your overall impression after your private tour of the library?

I think everybody’s expectations will be exceeded when they visit and see how grand, interactive and informative it is. It’s the caliber of any Smithsonian. We’ve been to four other presidential museums, and it’s best of them.

The special thing is that every American who comes here can have a very personal experience because the museum depicts relatively current events we all experienced as citizens of the country. Everybody ought to make it over there as soon as they can.

Did you have a favorite area? What was Sylvia’s favorite part?

An area called “Decision Points” gives you an opportunity to experience history on a first person, interactive basis. Visitors see situations that the president faced. It might be 9-11, Katrina, economic challenges, taxes and so forth. Then using a touch screen on a kiosk, you choose the decision you would have made and then compare it to what the president actually did in each scenario.

Sylvia especially liked the oval office because of her fond memories from December 2008 when we visited President Bush in the actual oval office with our granddaughters. In this exact duplicate, you can go right inside, sit on the couch, sit behind his desk and completely explore and discover it.

We both enjoyed a mini theater presentation that was narrated by the Bush daughters. They talk about his sense of humor and you see clips of him being a fun father and husband. It’s a nice change of pace after going through the 9-11 exhibit where it is such a sobering experience that leaves you with a profound sense and reminder of what the country went through. The names of every person lost in the 9-11 attack are engraved on the wall.

Were there any exhibits connected to the work you did as EPA regional administrator?

In the area about conservation and environment there is a display on the ocean action plan that President Bush led. I got an award for my participation in carrying out that assignment — it was called the Gulf Guardian Award. The Gulf of Mexico was in my jurisdiction as regional administrator.

I watched a mother and daughter looking at the exhibit, and I asked Sibby to take my photo with them because I was kind of fascinated that they were interested in something that I got to be a part of for several years.

Did you get a souvenir?

The gift shop was really nice and full of all sorts of presidential things. We decided to get a souvenir that has the logo of this Presidential Center on it to add to our already extensive collection of presidential memorabilia.

What did you think of the building and the architecture?

The building itself is extraordinary, and they raised enough money to make it what it should be and no corners were cut. The building is u-shaped. It has 3 wings: the museum; the Institute and the Archives section.

The architecture fits in perfectly with the setting and is a complement to SMU’s existing architecture, and the landscaping is all native Texas plants. When those are mature it’s going to really complement the building. The building meets the highest recognition for environmental consciousness. Even the restroom fixtures are designed to conserve water usage, and high-tech hand dryers very effectively dry your hands in a matter of seconds.

How do you think the center will benefit the area?

I think it will add to our tourism industry. When someone comes to Six Flags or a ball game and finds out the presidential museum is 30 minutes away, it ought to be a an easy decision to add a day to their visit.

How did you wrap up your two-day experience?

We enjoyed going to dinner with Steve Johnson and his wife. He served in the Bush cabinet as the administrator of the EPA and was the last of the three administrators that I worked for.

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