Bush Family Pastor Speaks On His Friendship With President George H.W. Bush Former president George H.W. Bush's pastor, Reverend Russell Jones Levenson Jr. of St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, speaks with NPR's Michel Martin about his friendship with the president.
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Bush Family Pastor Speaks On His Friendship With President George H.W. Bush

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Bush Family Pastor Speaks On His Friendship With President George H.W. Bush

Bush Family Pastor Speaks On His Friendship With President George H.W. Bush

Bush Family Pastor Speaks On His Friendship With President George H.W. Bush

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/672598376/672598377" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Former president George H.W. Bush's pastor, Reverend Russell Jones Levenson Jr. of St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, speaks with NPR's Michel Martin about his friendship with the president.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We now turn to a close friend and minister to the Bush family, the Reverend Russell J. Levenson Jr. of St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. Reverend Levenson has known the Bush family for more than a decade and officiated at Barbara Bush's funeral service last spring, where he offered the homily. He's with us on the line now. Reverend Levenson, thank you so much for speaking with us.

RUSSELL J. LEVENSON JR.: Michel, thank you for reaching out today.

MARTIN: It seems so odd to offer condolences to someone who is so used to offering them to others, but I do want to offer my condolences because these are two close friends.

LEVENSON JR.: Thank you very much. They have been very - both Barbara and the president have been very special people in the life of my wife and my life and the life our children. And so yes, we're not only bidding farewell to somebody the world loved but somebody who was very close and very loving to my family.

MARTIN: Could you give us an example of that? I remember reading when you were transferred to - you moved to Houston from Pensacola. That's not easy to do to integrate yourself into a community. And they offered some very special support for you. Would you mind sharing that?

LEVENSON JR.: Thank you. Mostly people have been asking today about the last few days, so it's great to go back and visit the first few days. And yes, we were - in the Episcopal Church here, you're not really moved around. You're called, and you respond to calls. And so we responded to the call to come to Houston. And it - we were very close to family at that time - I mean, geographically close to our family and loved being on the coast in Florida. And so it was - we knew it was a call, but it was a call that we received and took.

And though we felt strained leaving our family, shortly after we accepted the call, not only the president called us in Pensacola and welcomed us, but later we found that he - and he didn't let us know he was doing this - he personally hand-wrote letters to my parents and to my wife Laura's parents to let them know that while they knew - he knew that they would miss us being close, that we would be taken care of and that they personally would be looking after us and making sure we felt welcome. And we certainly were, and they were a big part of that.

MARTIN: That is lovely. I was wondering what role that faith played in President Bush's life. And I ask because he was not of a generation or of a mind to discuss that very much publicly. Would you mind sharing what you feel comfortable sharing about what role faith played in his life?

LEVENSON JR.: Sure. I'll say a little bit more about that when the services happen this week publicly. But I will say he was a very committed Episcopalian. And we live our faith both in our words and our actions. And this is not a man who wore his faith on his sleeve, but he was a man who was very committed to his church, to God, to the Christian faith, though he was a man who was a friend to people of every faith. I mean, that was very obvious, I think, to everyone. But that was his avenue to faith was the Christian church and Jesus Christ. And so we prayed together very often. We talked about, you know, spiritual matters, particularly as he had had some challenges since - you know, 2012 was really - he had pretty serious health challenges in 2012. But we would talk about those from time to time.

But for him, I do think it's fair to say it was - and I mean this in the best sense of the word - it was a simple faith. He didn't have to work at it. It wasn't a complicated stretch for him. It was something that, of course, his family was brought up in kind of the bosom of the Christian faith. And so it was just something like many parts of his life that he accepted, embraced. But I think the most important piece - and we're hearing this all over the place today - is it's something that he lived. He didn't have to talk about it because he lived it.

MARTIN: Very briefly, if you can, I understand that you have a reputation for putting people to work at the church. So did the former president do his bit?

LEVENSON JR.: He sure did. I mean, he was very much involved. I mean, before going to Washington and offering his service there in the early days - they've been members of the church for 50 years. So he was an usher. He served coffee on Sunday morning. And when I came - I know in the years in between - I'm the fourth rector of St. Martin's. Other rectors called on him for leadership. And I think we had a bring-a-friend-to-church Sunday, and he brought Margaret Thatcher as his friend.

MARTIN: Oh, wow. See, there you go. OK.

LEVENSON JR.: When we had outreach initiatives of the church, you know, they were always behind that and publicly supportive of it. And two years ago, at the anniversary of the Points of Light Foundation, we had huge interfaith service where we brought together people of every faith background and tradition in the city and raised money for relief in the community. And they were a big part of that.

MARTIN: We have to leave it there for now. Reverend Russell J. Levinson Jr., close friend and rector and pastor to former President George H.W. Bush in Houston, Texas. Father Levinson, thank you so much for talking with us thanks so much.

LEVENSON JR.: Thanks so much. God bless you. Take care.

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