Friday, February 09, 2007

Bush's Other Grandfather

On the Daily Show last night, Ralph Nader told Jon Stewart how his mother, at a reception, refused to release the President’s grandfather, Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, from a handshake until he promised to look into a civic problem that was bothering her.

If this is Bush Family History Month, I should tell my story about George W’s other grandfather.

In 1953, I went to work as a junior editor for his mother's father, Marvin Pierce, who was president of the McCall Corporation, a publishing and printing company with several thousand employees.

Soon after I arrived, an elderly secretary edged me into a corner. "You're not the first Jew to work here," she said, "only the first one they know about." Years earlier, she had changed her name to get under the radar.

The company had no personnel department, but hiring was vetted by Marvin Pierce's secretary, a formidable woman named Emily Chestnutt, who grilled publishers and editors about the pedigrees of applicants.

A year later, I told a young woman I knew about a staff opening. All went well until her resume reached Ms. Chestnutt. She called Wade Nichols, the editor, to say she was worried about someone named Dorothy Weichel (suspiciously ethnic) who had worked for a trade union (politically dubious) and the United World Federalists (downright Un-American).

Nichols, who had done who-knows-what to get me on the payroll, somehow charmed Ms. Chestnutt into letting him hire Dorothy. Neither knew that her family was suburban Boston Protestant, her mother eligible to join the Daughters of the American Revolution and the First Families of Virginia .

Marvin Pierce was a genial man with a year-round golf course tan who was always pleasant and approved two promotions for me in the following years. (Redbook had won a national award for opposing McCarthyism.)

When Dorothy, the suspect DAR daughter, and I decided to marry, he even came to our office engagement party.

Before offering a toast, he asked the bride-to-be about her plans. She told him she would quit her job and stay home to take care of me.

Right then and there, George W. Bush’s grandfather made a pre-Feminist joke.

“Why,” he asked, “doesn’t he quit his job and stay home to take care of you?”

Everybody laughed.