The day Mr. Bush stopped by

Stephen Igo • Dec 5, 2018 at 7:30 AM

Editor’s note: The recent death of former President George H.W. Bush had Times News Staff Writer Stephen Igo reminiscing about the day 30 years ago when he got to spend a little time with Bush, who was then vice president of the United States.

While campaigning for president that year, Bush stopped in Kingsport to visit the house where his parents lived briefly in 1922. Prescott and Dorothy Bush lived at 906 Norwood St. in Kingsport’s historic White City neighborhood. Prescott Bush worked for a St. Louis hardware company at the time.

In 1980, Dorothy Bush was in Northeast Tennessee for a press conference while campaigning for her son’s first run for president. Responding to a question about her time in Kingsport, she said, “I remember this little white village where we lived, and I remember the (Kingsport) Inn,” she said.

Igo, whose 1988 story is reprinted below, said what he remembers most from that day was that Jane Carper, who lived in the Norwood Street house and hosted Bush, “while understandably bowled over by it all, was incredibly gracious and hospitable to a fault.”


By Stephen Igo

Times News Staff Writer

KINGSPORT — Stephen Carper might not be a world-class horseshoe toss artist. But he proved Saturday he has the kind of sense of humor that makes for a great host.

Shortly before the arrival of arguably his most famous houseguest, Carper meandered out his door and fastened a sign on his front lawn: “FOR SALE.”

Actually, it was a spoof. His wife, Jane, doesn’t have to pack. She just had to make sure the coffee was hot and her chocolate chip cookies ready to serve.

Carper’s good-humored effort to elicit laughter from his neighbors, and bunches of folks not his neighbors, succeeded. Entertaining the nation’s vice president in your home doesn’t have to be an anxiety attack, after all.

The normally quiet, subdued neighborhood fronting John Sevier Middle School was just the opposite as Vice President George Bush made his presidential campaign visit — taking time to take refuge in the Carper home where his parents once lived briefly and pitch horseshoes with Stephen.

For Ava Zima, the 2 1/2-year-old daughter of George and Lalla Zima, the hoopla in the Norwood neighborhood was a great opportunity to leave her 6-year-old brother, George Jr., to his own devices at a nearby kid-size basketball game and mix it up with other tykes ignoring the Secret Service agents and insignificant details like police barriers.

“We didn’t even know this was going on. We dropped our son at his ball game and figured to see what was up,” said Ava’s father. “No, we’re not sure yet who we’ll vote for. But we generally vote Republican. So we’re interested.”

Tina Kramer, who lives next door to the Carpers’, was entertaining Saturday houseguests of her own — Mariene Falsetta and her twin 5-year-old sons, Ricky and Fallon, of Michigan.

“It just worked out that they came here when this was happening,” offered an obviously pleased Kramer. “We’ve been a fan of George Bush before we knew he was coming. So we’re thrilled with this, you can be sure.”

Kramer’s 8-year-old son, Jacob, cruised around the driveway on his bicycle hampered a bit by a poster proclaiming: “Welcome VP Bush. You have my vote. For he is a jolly good fellow.”

And what would Jacob ask his favorite vice president, should he get the chance?

“No school for a year,” he said, after some brainstorming and mother-prompting.

“I think his teacher wouldn’t mind that either,’ Kramer added.

Margaret Ray, widow of the late state Sen. J. Mack Ray, made no bones about her political persuasion.

“I’m a staunch Democrat,” she said flatly. “But I’ll have you know my mother was a Republican. I have to keep my friends, regardless of politics.”

Ray will head for Nairobi, Kenya, Monday. And for that trip, she purchased a brand new video camera. George Bush was a “historic” way to test out her new outfit.

“I’m a Democrat, but a vice president is a vice president,” Ray explained. “I’m going to Africa and this is a good way to practice on this thing. Jimmy (Quillen) will laugh when he sees me here. This could be worth it.”

Cameron Nelson, 4, had the advantage of a grand view of everything atop the shoulders of her father, Milton.

“Get closer, Daddy. I want to see Bush,” she ordered.

“That must be a neat experience, to live in a place where the vice president comes to visit,” Milton said, ignoring his daughter’s advice as much as possible when a 4-year-old is perched in such a commanding position.

“You saw the For Sale sign. That’s the way to handle it.”

Then, most everybody had to take care when Stephen Carper wielded a horseshoe. Bush, a southpaw, turned out to be pretty darned good at the classic neighborhood game. In more ways then one.

The vice president did, indeed, partake of Jane Carper’s chocolate chip cookies and freshly brewed coffee. He shook George Zima’s hand, and patted the arm of little Ava, much to her curiosity. Margaret Ray fussed with her new-fangled video camera, getting in her much needed “historic” practice before Africa.

Bush has a long trek ahead of him, across America, to garner the Republican nomination for president. His stroll through a quiet neighborhood in Kingsport on Saturday was a step in that direction.