A Missouri author who served as President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff after leaving office has a new book out showcasing some of the larger-than-life stories about America’s 41st president. Jean Becker, who grew up in central Missouri’s Martinsburg, is touring the state this week to promote her new book titled “The Man I Knew: The Amazing Story of George H.W. Bush’s Post-Presidency.”
She has 25 years of life stories to tell about the former commander-in-chief living outside the West Wing. The ex-USA Today reporter served as First Lady Barbara Bush’s deputy press secretary. She then worked at President Bush’s side as his chief of staff from the time he left the White House until his death in 2018.
“It was the best job in America. Working for President Bush – and to some extent Mrs. Bush as well of course – was a wild roller coaster ride. Mikhail Gorbachev once told me to shut up. I’m oddly proud of that but I was once kissed by Tom Selleck. I don’t think that would happen if I were a newspaper reporter,” she says. “There are some wonderful behind-the-scenes stories about what happens in the office of a former president. It is not boring by any means. There is just lots of funny stories – the ups and downs of trying to control the life of a former president.”
Becker tells Missourinet she decided to write the book because she felt it would be criminal not to.
“I am still very popular at cocktail parties. People say, ‘Jean, tell us the story about George Clooney!’ I thought, you know, I need to put all this in writing and record it for history’s sake,” she says.
The book is not political or a tell-all.
“I think the book is just a breath of fresh air. There is not any other book out there like it right now,” says Becker. “If people were thinking I was going to dish dirt, they should just close the book right now. The truth is, I didn’t have any big secrets to tell.”
Becker talks about the legacy Bush has left.
“I really do mean this from the bottom of my heart – it occurred to me that George Bush left us a blueprint on how to live a life well-lived. President Bush really did teach us how to live life with joy, with purpose, he had such a servant’s heart, he practiced what he preached. Not only is the book fun but there’s also a real message in these pages.”
According to Becker, there is a story about snoring that she thinks the Bushes would roll their eyes about.
“They both used to complain to me a lot how much the other one snored and they weren’t getting any sleep. I had to put the story in the book because the end of the story is so sweet. I used to not be able to tell it without crying,” she says.
Becker eventually advised Mr. Bush to sleep in a different bedroom than his wife.
“And he looked at me and he said, ‘That will never happen. I have to be able to reach out in the middle of the night and touch her hand and know that she is there.’ So, I to tell the story because it’s too sweet not to, but I’m not sure they would approve of my talking about their snoring,” she says.
Becker, a University of Missouri School of Journalism graduate, cranked out the book during the pandemic months of 2020.
“I watched a lot of Netflix, but I spent a lot of time writing this book,” she says.
This is Becker’s second book. She also wrote “Pearls of Wisdom: Little Pieces of Advice (That Go a Long Way)” for Mrs. Bush. It was released in March 2020 – after the former first lady died.
“Mrs. Bush was one of the biggest advice givers you would ever meet. The book was about all of the advice she gave all of us over the years. I sent out a huge email to friends and family and staffers and said, ‘What did you learn from Barbara Bush?’”
Both of her books have made The New York Times’s best-seller list.
“I had zero expectations of either one making the list but they both did,” says Becker. “When I emailed the five Bush kids to tell them that ‘The Man I Knew’ was going to be on the New York Times’s best-seller list the next week, I said ‘Your dad may have died two-and-a-half years ago but he’s trending.’”
Will Becker write another book?
“I don’t know. I keep getting asked that,” she says.
Her events this week in Missouri include at the Missouri River Regional Public Library in Jefferson City Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and Neighborhood Reads Bookstore in Washington on Friday at 12 p.m. She is also attending private events in Columbia and Perry.
The full interview is available below.
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