Former President George H.W. Bush died Friday night. He was 94. The nation’s 41st president helped build the Republican Party in Texas. When Bush landed in Odessa, Texas, in the late 1940s, it wasn’t his first time navigating a vast ocean of blue. He’d fallen into the Pacific Ocean after being shot down by the Japanese – in World War II, he fought to knock down a foreign enemy. At home, he fought to pump up the GOP.
“Bush was a pioneer in building the Republican Party in Texas,” says Southern Methodist University professor Carolyn Barta, who covered Bush’s campaigns and presidency as a reporter. “Back in the ‘50s when he was in Midland, he was a precinct chairman and the Republicans used to joke back then there were so few of them back then they could meet in a phone booth!”
Bush moved his family to West Texas in 1948 to get into the oil business, not public life. The Yale graduate bought a little house in Midland in 1950 in a development nicknamed Easter Egg Row. Back then, Midland was a small, close-knit community. Hank Williams was No. 1 on the country charts.
Bush built a network in the oil fields, started his own oil company, and raised six children. One of them was a future president. After becoming a millionaire, Bush turned to public life.
“He came in at a time when the Republican Party was the minority party in the state,” says Jonathan Neerman, a former chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party.
Neerman says it was after Bush moved from Midland to Houston that his political career picked up speed.