Federal Way resident reflects on campaign with late former President George H.W. Bush

Bette Simpson-Opstad recounts details of inauguration day in January 1989.

In the wake of former President George H.W. Bush’s death, local resident Bette Simpson-Opstad reminisced on her experience working with his campaign in the late 1980s.

Simpson-Opstad, now 80, served in Federal Way as the chairperson for the Bush-Quayle campaign, representing Washington state.

“It was quite an experience,” she said. “I found him to be a very sincere person … and his wife, Barbara, too.”

She was also a member of the Federal Way Community Council and the King County Centennial Commission, as well as an active member of the Republican Party in the south Sound.

As chairperson of the campaign, she worked directly with Bush during his visits to Washington state; she was also one of about 200 Washington Republicans invited to attend his presidential inauguration ceremonies in January 1989.

“It was a really beautiful day,” she said of the inauguration on Jan. 20, 1989, including they had “nice seats,” enjoyed a VIP tour of the White House and attended the inauguration balls.

Simpson-Opstad grew up in the Midwest and was an operating room nurse for more than 30 years, although always pursued her love for political science and art, she said.

“I did not give up on political science, on art because I felt those two things also round out a person,” she said. “They gave you a perspective on a lot of things going on in the world.”

Bush was a candidate who was very interested in the country and the people in the country, more so than promoting himself, she said.

Simpson-Opstad lived by a quote often said by her mother and grandmother: “You have to always look back and help the other person,” which Bush did, she said.

Christmas cards from the Bush family, photographs of her and Bush, and personalized letters from the former president are some of Simpson-Opstad’s cherished and tangible memories, she said.

One letter from Bush reads:

“Barbara and I send out heartfelt appreciation for all your hard work in Washington on my behalf. It means a great deal to me to have your support. We very much appreciate the commitment it takes to put together a solid statewide organization. Be assured we are grateful for your continuing efforts …”

Another letter addressed to Simpson-Ostad and her surgery crew of Auburn General Hospital in 1989 reads in part: “I’m delighted that you share my philosophy for a kinder, gentler nation …”

Bush died on Nov. 30 at the age of 94, which makes him the longest-lived president in U.S. history.

“I felt very sad, but I knew he had lived a full life and he had accomplished a lot in his life,” Simpson-Opstad said. “It was a privilege to know such a person, and president, and see he was very much a decent, knowledgeable, caring person.”

Bette Simpson-Opstad shared her experience working with the late former President George H.W. Bush. Carrie Rodriguez/staff photo

Bette Simpson-Opstad shared her experience working with the late former President George H.W. Bush. Carrie Rodriguez/staff photo