Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Peggy Noonan traveled to stately Grand Hotel to deliver a speech at the Mackinac Policy Conference in early June. I made my way to the island and up to Grand Hotel via automobile, Shepler’s Ferry, and horse-drawn carriage to hear the grand dame essayist and bestselling author of nine books including “When Character Was King” speak.
I was especially excited to possibly meet her not because I’d seen her on so many nationally televised news programs, but because she had also written speeches for former Vice-President George Herbert Walker Bush – including the very famous presidential nomination speech he delivered in 1988 which included her poetic phrases such as: “a thousand points of light”…”I am a quiet man but I hear the quiet people others don’t”…and “read my lips: no new taxes.”
Noonan, on stage in front of hundreds of attendees, almost immediately mentioned her relationship with President Bush, emphasizing how important he was to her career and what a decent, dignified man he is. To that point she also bemoaned, in her nuanced, dramatic delivery style, that the nation is now facing an epidemic of tactlessness, an antiquated virtue Noonan insisted is crucial in personal interactions. She urged attendees to conduct themselves with tact.
While Noonan smiled and toyed with her blonde hair, shared that she’d sent a copy of her most-recent book of collected writings entitled “The Time of Our Lives,” to former President Bush. She revealed he mailed her, in response, a cute, personal thank you note back teasing: “I hope your new book sells more than Millie’s book did.” (The Bushes’ dog Millie “wrote” a number-one bestselling book about White House life in 1990 – the same year Noonan published her first book.)
Given the tone and content of the “fellow writer’s” speech, and knowing her affection for the 41st president, I toted along a copy of the new book I’d authored: “I Call Him Mr. President – Stories of Golf Fishing and Life with my Friend George Herbert Walker Bush.” It was written in collaboration with the president’s very close friend and neighbor Ken Raynor from Kennebunkport, the picturesque, Maine tourist town in which President Bush spends his summers.
So after Noonan left the stage and was making her way out of the theater to travel back to Manhattan, I respectfully and tactfully approached her by walking beside her.
“Hello, Ms. Noonan. I am acquainted with President Bush and thought you might like a copy of my book about him.”
She looked at the book, which has a picture of the president on the cover, and, without lifting her arms in any way to accept the it, just laughed.
I wasn’t really sure how to interpret her response, so, after her calamitous chuckle, I continued to extend the book, which she looked at as if it were a pile of fresh Mackinac Island horse manure. There was slight alleviation of the awkwardness of the pregnant pause when, without breaking stride, Noonan finally took the book, which included a thank you note inside. I also broke the silence with some self-deprecation by saying to Noonan: “The book might help you fall asleep when you’re on the airplane.”
This provoked another cackle, but still no words, and our meeting was concluded as she was swept behind closed doors.
I learned later, secondhand, that within a moment of receiving it, Noonan left the book about President Bush behind on a table in the hotel.
Maybe she just didn’t want it. Maybe she didn’t have room for it in her carry-on bag. Maybe she forgot it. Or maybe the Pulitzer Prize-winner preferred that I approach her with a copy of her book and ask her for an autograph, instead. Maybe that would have been more, as she would say, “tactful?”
Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at MShiels@aol.com His radio program may be heard weekday mornings on 92.1 FM. His latest book is “I Call Him Mr. President – Stories of Fishing, Golf and Life with my Friend George H.W. Bush”