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George H.W. Bush: An Appreciation

George H.W. Bush: An Appreciation

December 4, 2018

Dear Campus Community:

George Herbert Walker Bush will be remembered for his lifetime of service as a Navy aviator during World War II, a Member of Congress, ambassador to the United Nations, chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People’s Republic of China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vice President of the United States, and 41st President of the United States.

George H.W. Bush distinguished himself within the Gallaudet University community in several ways, both before and during his presidency. While serving as Vice President under President Ronald W. Reagan, he took note of the ongoing search for a new president of Gallaudet University. On March 1, 1988, he wrote a letter to Philip W. Bravin, ’66 & H-’14, a member of the Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee.

In this letter, Vice President Bush wrote, “I have a deep interest in disability civil rights. Over the past few years I have worked with many national and local organizations run by and for disabled people…I have also had many conversations with disabled leaders, including deaf persons, throughout the United States.” He continued, “From this experience, I have become aware of the two basic principles that underly the disability rights movement; the right of disabled people to control their own lives and the right to integration and involvement in society.”

Citing broad governmental support for “the right of people with disabilities to hold positions of trust and leadership”, Vice President Bush concluded his letter in the strongest possible terms: “Accordingly, as an entity funded by the Federal government, Gallaudet has a responsibility to set an example and thus to appoint a President who is not only highly qualified, but who is also deaf. I hope the Trustees will keep Gallaudet’s critical leadership position in mind when they make their decision.”

Members of Congress, including Senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kansas), H-’96 and Thomas R. Harkin, H-’91, also expressed strong support for the selection of a deaf President. Nevertheless, the Board of Trustees selected the sole hearing candidate, setting in motion the historic Deaf President Now movement.

Bravin wrote, “Vice President Bush had a keen insight into how we should be able to control our destiny. He saw the presidency at Gallaudet as a pathway to do so. Looking back over 30 years, his foresight was right on the dot; not just the presidency, but the composition of a majority of deaf people on the Board of Trustees of deaf people ensured full control of our destiny. His letter 30 years ago showed the keen sense of that foresight.”

Like all U.S. Presidents since Ulysses S. Grant, George H.W. Bush was our patron. He signed the diplomas of all students who received their degrees between 1989 and 1992.

Early in his administration, President Bush appointed Dr. Robert R. Davila, ’53 & H-’96, as Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the U.S. Department of Education. This was the highest federal government position ever held by a deaf person. Wrote Davila, who later became Gallaudet’s ninth president, “[This appointment was] one of the highlights of my 57-year professional career. Throughout the President’s four-year term, I was privileged to brief him on issues and events impacting the lives and needs of people with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act which he signed into law in 1990. He was an enormously sympathetic and positive leader, and I considered it an honor to serve in his administration.”

Significantly, President Bush wrote a testimonial for Dr. Davila’s biography, Moments of Truth: Robert R. Davila, The Story of a Deaf Leader, by Harry G. Lang, H-’13, Oscar P. Cohen, H-’05, and Joseph E. Fischgrund (RIT Press, 2007). President Bush wrote, “One of the greatest honors of being President of the United States is that you have the privilege of meeting and working with the best of the best in America. Certainly, Bob Davila is one of those ‘best’ who is an inspiration to all who know him. His story is proof that hard work, determination, and courage can overcome even life’s toughest challenges.”

On May 3, 1989, President Bush received in the Oval Office the first call placed through the new Federal Information Relay Service, from a deaf student at the Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind. Photographs of this historic event show the late Sen. John S. McCain (R-Arizona), Gallaudet University President I. King Jordan, ’70 & H-’14; Rep. Steven C. Gunderson (R-Wisconsin), H-’92; General Services Administration Acting Administrator Richard G. Austin, and interpreter Earl F. Elkins, G-’86.

Finally, on July 26, 1990, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. He said at the time, “With today's signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”

Gregory J. Hlibok, ’89, one of the four student leaders of the Deaf President Now movement and a member of our Board of Trustees, wrote, “President Bush created the bookends that defined Deaf history, beginning with his letter prior to DPN urging the Gallaudet Board of Trustees to appoint a deaf President, and ending with the signing into law of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. He probably did not realize the magnitude of his positive political contribution to the Deaf community, which is also true for many communities across the world. For this, we owe him our thanks.”

Indeed, we owe President Bush our thanks and appreciation. I have sent our condolences to his family.

Please know that Gallaudet University and the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center will be open on Wednesday, December 5, the National Day of Mourning. The holiday open house at the Edward Miner Gallaudet Residence will go on as scheduled on Thursday, December 6 from 1 to 5 p.m. Our flags will fly at half-staff for 30 days.


Roberta J. Cordano

Posted by Andrew Greenman | Posted December 4, 2018 at 5:17 PM


800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002


800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002