2012 Blanchard Award goes to business leader Bill Turner in program featuring former President George W. Bush

2012 Blanchard Award goes to business leader Bill Turner in program featuring former President George W. Bush

George W. Bush, doling out self-deprecating wisecracks amid words of thanks for the U.S. military, opened the two-day Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum to a packed house in the ballroom at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center Monday night.

“They often ask me if you miss being president and the answer’s no!” joked Bush, a two-term Republican president who left office in January 2008. “It’s a little irritating having to stop at a stoplight when I was coming here. And I had to shower on the airplane.”

The nation’s 43rd president, who turned 66 on July 6, addressed the 1,200 conference attendees — who were finishing up their steak, brocoli and cheese-baked potato — remarking about lounging on his couch in Crawford, Texas, in November 2008, witnessing the “peaceful transfer of power” that brought President Barack Obama to office. The new leader enters the White House and the old one heads home, he said.

“In my case, Crawford,” he deadpanned. “Laura walks in and she says, how do you feel? I said free at last. She said, yeah, you’re free alright. You’re now free to do the dishes. I said, baby, you’re talking to the former president of the United States. She said, I know, but it’s your new domestic policy and agenda.”

The former commander-in-chief, who launched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks in September 2001, said he does miss the U.S. military and those serving their nation around the globe.

“I’m not poetic enough to describe what it means to salute a man or a woman who has volunteered in the face of danger,” Bush said. “But ours is a unique country that produces hundreds of thousands of such individuals. I’m particularly proud to be here with privates and the sergeants and, of course, the officers such as H.R. McMaster, Gen. McMaster.”

The former president, of course, was referring to the two-star general who took charge of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning in June.

“The guy wrote a book, and much to the amazement of the New York Times, I read it,” quipped Bush. “It was influential in my decision-making and I want to thank you, and I’m glad to see you taking on such a big responsibility.”

McMaster’s book, which generated controversy in military circles when it was released, is titled, “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam.”

Others in the audience receiving a nod of recognition from Bush was U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop and his wife, Vivian.

“It’s great to see you again Sanford,” he said. “I thank you for your kindness and the respect you showed the office when I was president.”

Also drawing chuckles was the former president’s mention of “madam mayor,” Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, at the night’s gathering. She will be addressing the forum Tuesday morning.

“I used to tell people that being a mayor was much harder than being a president … a little closer to the people,” said Bush, who was to take part in a pre-screened question-and-answer session later in his address.

The $429-per-person two-day event also had its poignant moment. It came before Bush took the stage, with Georgia Lottery Director Margaret DeFrancisco helping to present the Blanchard Award for Outstanding Stewardship and Ethics in Business to William “Bill” Turner.

“It manifests the concept of always doing the right thing,” DeFrancisco said of the honor and its rightful awarding to Turner. “He was directly involved as a peacemaker during the civil rights movement. He’s been a confidante and councilor to most everyone in leadership positions in the Columbus commuinity.”

The aging Turner slowly made his way to the stage amid applause. The retired W.C. Bradley Co. executive has graced the boards of director of Coca-Cola, Synovus Financial Corp. and TSYS. He has tirelessly fostered the necessity and benefits of servant leadership, including discussions with Columbus State University students.

“I had never thought about myself being a leader. I’ve always felt like I was a cheerleader of the wonderful people that I had to work with. And those are the ones that really should be getting this award,” Turner said, turning to thank his own head cheerleader, wife Sue Marie.

The award’s namesake, retired Synovus Chairman and Chief Excecutive Officer Jim Blanchard, is scheduled to give a lunchtime address Tuesday at the forum, the seventh year it has taken place.

Prior to the gathering, conference attendees mingled in the large convention hall, enjoying a cash bar and the chance to purchase a book written by one of the scheduled speakers. The offerings included the 2010 Bush memoir, “Decision Points,” which for $35 included a signed book plate. Also on the shelf was, “It’s the Middle Class Stupid!,” a book by Democratic political advisor James Carville, who will be at the forum Tuesday with his wife, Republican consultant and CNN moderator Mary Matalin.

Also scheduled to speak at the forum Tuesday is Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, Aflac Chairman and CEO Dan Amos and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

One footnote on Monday night’s appearance by Bush was his contract’s stipulation that very limited recording of his image and words occur. To that end, as he was taking the stage, TV screens scrolled a message telling those in the ballroom to turn off all recording devices. News media in attendance were allowed to listen to and photograph the former president for only the first three minutes of his comments before being escorted out of the room.


By TONY ADAMS — tadams@ledger-enquirer.com

Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer

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