EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The life of Peter Secchia was intertwined with the life of President George H.W. Bush since they became political allies in the 1970s.
The Republican Party was coming out of the devastation of the Watergate scandal and would go on see the party reclaim the presidency for 12 straight years. During that time, the political ties became ties of friendship.
“I loved the guy, I really did,” 81-year-old Peter Secchia said from his East Grand Rapids home Saturday afternoon.
Peter Secchia and Bush first became acquainted working in the administration of President Gerald R. Ford. Bush would become CIA director and Secchia was vice-chairman of the Republican National Committee.
“I marveled at his stature, the way he handled himself,” Secchia said
Secchia worked for the Bush campaign when Bush ran against Ronald Reagan.
In 1980, Bush scored an upset primary win in Michigan taking 57 percent of the vote to Reagan’s 32 percent.
“Well, as his chairman of his campaign, that’s a badge of honor for me that we were able to carry him forward,” Secchia said, grinning.
Secchia visited Bush often when he was vice president and the two would have lunch there prepared by the White House staff.
Bush wanted Secchia in his administration, but Sechia did not want to live in Washington D.C. But, his grandfather was from Italy and he wanted the ambassador position, along with 112 other people.
“He actually picked me out of the crowd as a person who he could depend on,”” Secchia said.
Bush picked Secchia as ambassador, but Democrats who controlled Congress help up the appointment for six months.
“He was a man to be reckoned with and to be very careful of because you had to keep your respect from him because he was a powerful player,” Secchia said.
Secchia would be an ambassador to a key European ally as the Soviet Union was dissolving, one of the seminal events of the late 20th Century.
“He did things for the right reason and he did them with class,” Secchia said.
Bush and his Chief of Staff James Baker III stayed with Secchia at the Italian embassy as they worked on nuclear disarmament in Europe.
“(Bush) was an imposing figure, but he was a regular guy, he didn’t play aloof, he just was aloof,” Secchia said.
The two men saw less of each other after the presidency, but remained close and both men struggled with illness and the death in April of Barbara Bush.
But while Secchia is regaining his health, the president health faltered until late last night at the age of 94, the World War II naval hero died.
Ultimately, it will be up to history to assess the 41st presidency, but for today Peter Secchia will remember fondly his friend.
“No, it’s not a time to be sad, it’s a time to be happy that he knows he’s with Barbara again, he’s not sick and in trouble like he was for several months, but celebrate his life and there’s a lot to celebrate, the man got a lot done,” Secchia said.