GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the wife of the 41st president, Barbara Bush — and the rest of her high-powered Republican family — had a special relationship with West Michigan and with one family in particular.
Peter Secchia’s life in politics started as chairman as the Kent County Republicans in the 1970s. He was a GOP National Committeeman in the 1980s and served as ambassador to Italy under President George H.W. Bush. That meant he had a close, personal relationship with the former first lady, who died Tuesday at the age of 92.
Only a few weeks after suffering a stroke, the 81-year-old Secchia is on his feet, in his office and fighting against his doctors’ recommendation that he not attend Barbara Bush’s funeral in Houston Saturday.
“Joan and I have been invited to the funeral. We’d love to be there. We’ll have to wait and see,” Secchia said, referring to his wife.
Secchia said Barbara Bush and her husband spent many hours with him and his wife Joan. They spent time at Secchia’s home in Grand Rapids, at Lake Michigan and in Rome, where Secchia was ambassador from 1989 to 1993. Secchia was also the state chair for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign in 2016 and serves on the board of advisers for the Bush Presidential Library Foundation.
He met the Bushes in the late 1970s when George H.W. Bush was the head of the CIA and came to West Michigan. The Secchias introduced the couple to Grand Rapids.
“(Barbara Bush) always liked it here. The Bush family had a special affection for West Michigan,” Secchia said Wednesday, speaking to 24 Hour News 8 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, where he has an office.
The Bushes came to Grand Rapids numerous times as officials and as candidates.
“It’s a wonderful family and we’re gonna miss Barbara because she was just like dynamite,” Secchia said. “She was the family’s chief of staff, there’s no question about that, but in the world of Washington, a chief of staff is a lot lower than a matriarch.”
He also remembers the human side of the first lady.
“She would tease me a lot about some of these things, but she was a good jokester, she loved to jab a little bit, she had a sense of humor,” he said.
For Secchia, Barbara Bush’s death is more than the loss of a historical figure, more than the loss of only the second woman to be both the wife and mother of a U.S. president. He will miss his friend.
“While I sit here and do this interview, I’m coming closer and closer to figuring out how the doctors are going to have to let me go down to Houston for the funeral because you know where you’re supposed to be and I think I’m supposed to be there,” he said.
Secchia appears to be doing well for a man who so recently suffered a stroke. For those who know him in both politics and business, the betting money is on him being in Houston Saturday.
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