I met “41” when he was VP with President Reagan. We met in Conakry, Guinea in March 1984. He led the U.S. delegation attending the funeral of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure. I was assigned as his personal escort for the two days he was in Conakry.
A highlight of that memorable event was when all the non-Muslim heads of state were crowded into a small room located on the side of the Grand Mosque in Conakry. We expected to be allowed into the Mosque from this point. We were crammed into this room like sardines in a can. It felt like a sauna bath with Conakry’s 100 F temperature and 90% humidity, especially as we were all dressed in black suits and ties. Our ambassador got separated from us. He was hopelessly blocked by the crush of the crowd from joining us.
We were instructed to take off our shoes. I struggled to help VP Bush take off his shoes and I held them tightly. I then bent over to take off my shoes, bumping heads with President Kerekou of Benin. Everyone was perspiring profusely as they waited for the doors to open to allow us to enter into the main part of the Mosque.
My most unforgettable memory of the then VP Bush was that he was taller than anyone else in the room and remarkably he was the only one in the room not perspiring. He also demonstrated his great sense of humor when he laughed loudly when we received word that the Imans managing the Mosque had changed their minds and we would not be allowed into the Mosque.
There is much more I could write about this event, and I did write an article about this big funeral event that appeared in the February 2011 edition of the Foreign Service Journal. For sure, I was impressed by President Bush and often think about him and what he means to our country. Now that he has passed away, I believe he was the most important man I have met in my lifetime. I am deeply saddened by his passing. He was one of a kind.
Mark Wentling (Honduras 1967–69, Togo 1970–73; PC Staff: Togo, Gabon, Niger 1973–77) was a PCV for five years in Honduras and Togo. Following stints as Peace Corps Director in Gabon and Niger, he began working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Niger in 1977, and served as USAID’s representative in Guinea, Togo/Benin, Angola, Somalia and Tanzania. He was promoted into the Senior U.S. Foreign Service in 1988.
Since his formal retirement from USAID in 1996, he worked under contract as USAID’s Senior Advisor for the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa and as a specialized consultant in Malawi, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia. He also served as USAID’s country manager in Niger and Burkina Faso in the 2006 to 2010 period.