Programming note: For more on George H.W. Bush and the political family that produced two Presidents, watch CNN’s Original Series “The Bush Years” debuting Sunday, March 3 at 9pm ET on CNN.
Even after his death, George H.W. Bush continues to warm our hearts.
The 41st President sponsored a 7-year-old boy in the Philippines for ten years using a pseudonym, the nonprofit who connected them revealed.
Through Compassion International, a nonprofit organization that uses local churches to help children in poor communities around the world, Bush sponsored a boy named Timothy. For a decade, the former President sent funds that went toward Timothy’s education, extracurricular activities and some of his meals. The organization has shared some of Bush’s letters with CNN.
The Bush family was not available to comment on the letters, but Jim McGrath, a spokesperson for the Office of George H. W. Bush, confirmed the letters’ authenticity.
Once the sponsorship began, Bush began writing to the boy right away. He said in his first letter, sent on January 24, 2002, that he loved Timothy from the get-go.
I want to be your new pen pal.
I am an old man, 77 years old, but I love kids; and though we have not met I love you already.
I live in Texas - I will write you from time to time - Good Luck. G. Walker”
How it all began
Bush first got the idea to sponsor a child in 2001, when he attended a Christmas concert in Washington.
“Because the musicians were mostly Christian, they believed in our mission,” Wess Stafford, the former president of Compassion International told CNN. During intermission, “they would tell the audience about us, and ask them if they would like to sponsor a child,” he said.
“All of the sudden, Mr. Bush, who was sitting only a few rows back and surrounded by security, raised his hand and asked for a pamphlet.”
According to Stafford, his security team was alarmed because they had no idea what exactly was going to be on the pamphlet, or if the information on it had been screened for authenticity. But that didn’t stop Bush.
“His top security called me and said ‘this doesn’t surprise me coming from him, but if he’s going to sponsor this kid, we need to make sure the boy doesn’t know who his sponsor is.’ So, he signed all his letters to Timothy as ‘George Walker,’” Stafford said.
Bush’s security team was mainly concerned for Timothy’s safety, Stafford explained. They didn’t want him to become a target if people found out the boy was in communication with a former US President.
Keeping the secret was no easy task
Due to security concerns, Stafford became in charge of screening each letter – and Bush didn’t make his job easy, he said, as he began providing more information than he was supposed to.
“His letters were the most sweet, spirited letters I have read from any sponsor, but he kept giving hints as to who he could be,” Stafford said. “He was really pushing the envelope.”
His first security breach: sharing a picture of his dog.
“Here is a picture of our dog,” he wrote. “Her name is Sadie. She has met a lot of famous people.”
“She is a very good dog she was born in England. She catches mice and chipmunks, and she runs like the wind. G. Walker.”
He also mentioned that he was famous enough to get invited to the White House for Christmas.
I love that picture of you holding that ‘World Time’ gadget. I also have learned that you play the guitar - terrific!
Timothy, have you ever heard of the White House? That’s where the president of the USA lives.
I got to go to the White House at Christmas time. Here is a little booklet that I got at the White House in Washington.”
Although sending presents was not allowed, Bush would send them anyway, specially when he found out Timothy loved to draw and paint.
“Timothy would send him hand drawings and told the President how much he liked art, so he sent over color pencils, sketch pads, and paint,” Stafford said. “I waited for my staff to go to the Philippines and send it with them. They would then bring it to the church Timothy was a part of, so he could collect his gifts.”
In one of the letters, Timothy thanked Bush for not forgetting about him.
“Dear Mr. & Mrs. Walker,
How are you? I hope you’re in good condition.
I would like to thank you for not forgetting me. You’re so nice and good.
God is so good to us. He gives us the body & will to get to where we want to go.
Thank you so much for the book, I like it very much.”
Timothy finds out
Luckily, Timothy never caught on to the hints in Bush’s letters, and didn’t find out who his sponsor was until he had graduated from the program.
“After a while, my executive assistant, Angie Lathrop, took over the sponsorship, and after Timothy graduated at 17, she flew to the Philippines to meet him,” Stafford said. “That’s when she told him who his sponsor really was.”
Timothy was stunned, Stafford said. He really couldn’t believe the man he had been writing letters to was once the President of a nation.
Stafford said that Timothy told Lathrop he had no idea, and that the revelation was life-changing.
That was the last time the nonprofit heard from Timothy, despite efforts to locate him, Stafford said.
Compassion International works through partnerships with over 7,000 local churches in 25 countries around the world, and their main goal is to fund early education, help expectant mothers in need, and encourage those in poor communities to achieve great things.
People can sponsor expectant mothers, recent mothers, and children as young as four years of age, Stafford said.
“We may not know where Timothy is, but we know he’s now living a successful life,” Stafford said. “Sponsoring a child, even if they are still in the womb, can encourage them and guide them to become great human beings.”