Former President George H.W. Bush, who died late Friday, is being remembered in Meridian for his close friendship with former Congressman G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery.
The 41st president died at his home in Houston less than a year after the passing of his wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush.
“Sonny would tell you that George Bush was his best friend,” said Brad Crawford, president of the The G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Foundation.
“The story is that they were elected on the same day, in November of 1966. They started in Congress in January of 1967. They met in the House gym, I guess on their first day,” Crawford said.
“Sonny being a blue-dog Democrat from Mississippi and Bush being a Republican, they became friends almost immediately. And a lot of their friendship was based on playing paddleball together in the gym.”
Crawford said, that despite being from opposite sides of the political aisle, Bush and Montgomery remained friends for decades, with Montgomery spending Christmas holidays with the Bush family at their retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine.
“They were just great friends through their whole lives,” he said. “The biggest reason was their military experience…They were both in World War II in the 40s. To me, that’s got to be a huge part of it. Of course, they were similar in age and generation, but I think it’s got to be their military experience and interest in veterans after they were elected to Congress.”
When Montgomery died in 2006, Bush was among many national leaders attending the Congressman’s memorial service at the Temple Theatre in Meridian.
“What a gentleman Bush was,” Crawford said. "How he got along with people on both sides of the aisle, but could be firm when he needed to be.”
Following the Saturday morning announcement of Bush’s passing, Mississippi leaders offered their thoughts on his life.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., called Bush “of one of the greatest statesmen and public servants our nation has ever known.”
“I first met President Bush when he was Chairman of the Republican National Committee and I was Associated Student Body President at the University of Mississippi,” the statement said. “I have had many more opportunities to meet with President Bush over the years, but one notable connection he had to our state was through his deep friendship with the late Congressman G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery. It makes me smile when I recall the great bipartisan friendship between these two members of our greatest generation. On behalf of all Mississippians, I share my deepest sympathies and prayers for the entire Bush family.”
Gov. Phil Bryant, who ordered all U.S and state flags be to flown at half-staff on state grounds for 30 days, tweeted “Today, the nation and Mississippi celebrate the life and service of this great American. He and Barbara are once more together walking the streets of glory.”
“President George H.W. Bush's long life was spent in service to and defense of this great nation.” U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith tweeted. “He and Barbara Bush encouraged all of us to help each other, to be a point of light to others. What a wonderful example.”
Michael Guest, U.S. Congressman-elect for Mississippi's Third District, tweeted “President George H.W. Bush set a great example for others to follow—in public service, love of country and dedication to his family.”
A funeral service for Bush is planned for Wednesday at Washington’s National Cathedral. President Donald Trump, who proclaimed Wednesday a national day of mourning, also ordered federal offices to be closed that day to honor Bush.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.