George Bush Homecoming Rally

Brothers John John and Jay Jay Warren from Big Spring welcome former President George W. Bush to Midland on Tuesday. (courtesy photo)

With former first lady Laura Bush at his side, the ex-president told the thousands of well-wishers he was glad to be back in Texas.

By Betsy Blaney
Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 3:10 PM CST MIDLAND - George W. Bush basked in the warmth of an enthusiastic Texas crowd Tuesday as thousands came from all across the state to welcome him home after eight years in the White House.

With former first lady Laura Bush at his side, the ex-president told the thousands of well-wishers he was glad to be back in Texas.

"Laura and I may have left Texas (in 2001) but Texas never left us," Bush said as many in the crowd of about 25,000 waved cardboard red, white and blue "W"s distributed by the rally's organizers. "And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

In the hours leading up to the return, excerpts of some of Bush's speeches played on a large TV screen, including remarks he made to Congress shortly after the terrorist attacks in 2001.

One little boy waved a sign that read, "President Bush, thank you for keeping me safe" in multicolored lettering. Others read: "Be Bold, Be Bush" and "43 is back."

"The presidency was a joyous experience, but as great as it was, nothing compares with Texas at sunset," Bush said "Tonight I have the privilege of saying six words that I have been waiting to say for a while: It is good to be home."

Many in the crowd had been here eight years ago, when thousands turned out to send him off to Washington, D.C., for his first inauguration. Some things had changed since then, Bush told the gathering.

"What has changed is the weather," Bush joked, referring to the very cold temperatures on Jan. 17, 2001. Temperatures were around 60 when he arrived Tuesday.

Many were as much glum as they were happy to see Bush.

"It's a special day but it's a sad day," said Dudley Winn, a cotton farmer on the South Plains of West Texas who drove two hours from Lubbock to greet the ex-president on his first stop after leaving office earlier in the day in Washington, D.C. "He's done eight years of a job well done. He held our country together with the values we respect. He did the job we asked him to do. He kept our values safe."

Bush spoke about the challenges he had faced as the 43rd president.

Even during some of his most difficult days as president, Bush said he "was always optimistic about the future."

He lauded those who helped throughout his presidency.

"People came to Washington, D.C., not to serve George W. Bush, not to serve a political party, but they came because they wanted to serve the United States of America, and they did a fabulous job," Bush said.

He defended decisions he said some thought unwise.

"I never took an opinion poll to tell me what to think," Bush said. "And I'm coming home with my head held high and a sense of accomplishment."

As Bush flew into Midland he wanted to see the gathering from the air. The jet carrying the Bushes and others flew low over downtown so that they could see Centennial Plaza before their flight landed at the airport shortly before 5 p.m. CST.

Bush said he'd spoken to several presidents and that they told him they had been bittersweet about leaving the presidency. Bush said he could't embrace that notion entirely.

"For me, there's nothing to be bitter about," he said. "Today is something sweet."

With Bush at the rally were Karl Rove, former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, Alberto Gonzales, the country's former attorney general and others from his administration.

State officials also attended, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry who took over after Bush became president.

"We stood by this president during some of the darkest days the United States of America has been through," Perry said before Bush arrived. "George Bush understood something - we've got to be strong militarily. If people strike America, we strike back."

Jan Rhodes, a school teacher in Midland, was on hand when Bush left Midland eight years ago for his inauguration as president. She was back Tuesday.

"We watched for eight years and we're proud of how he served us and how he represented Midland," she said.

Rhodes said it didn't bother her that he hasn't been back to Midland for a public appearance since 2001.

"He had a big job to do," she said. "We're really proud of him and just want to say thank you."

While Bush was born in New Haven, Conn., he spent his childhood in Midland. He returned there as an adult in the 1970s and met the future first lady, who grew up there.

He called meeting her "more meaningful" in his life than "any meeting in the Oval Office."

"She filled the White House with warmth and my life with joy," Bush said. "History will show that she was a fabulous first lady."

After the Midland rally, the Bushes flew to Waco where about 3,000 friends and supporters bundled up against 40-degree temperatures greeted them on the tarmac at an airfield. Many waved red, white and blue cardboard "W"s and small American flags. Dozens of children sat on their parents' shoulders to get a glimpse of Bush.

"I am grateful for my friends in Texas. I am grateful that you all came out tonight and I am thankful for having had the chance to serve our great nation for eight years," Bush told the crowd.

"It is a great day because we got to come home once and for all," he said, bringing cheers from the crowd.

From Waco, the Bushes were headed to their 1,600-acre ranch in nearby Crawford where Bush said he would look in the mirror and "be proud of what I see."

Museum Hours

Tues–Sat 10 AM – 5 PM, Sun 2–5 PM

Tours given until 4:30 PM

Closed Mondays, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day

1412 West Ohio Avenue
Midland, Texas 79701

Phone: (432) 685-1112