Dating Dub'ya: Not too memorable

Juneau women recall brush with candidate in the (apparently not so) swingin' '70s

Posted: Sunday, September 03, 2000

In both cases, it was a blind date. And the women never looked back.

Two Juneau women who dated George W. Bush in the mid-1970s say they aren't second-guessing themselves as Bush runs for the White House.

Asked if she has ever thought she could have been First Lady, Sally Smith said emphatically: "It does not cross my mind."

Betsy Brenneman also said that Bush didn't make much of an impression during their brief acquaintance, except for his commentary on Juneau's rain.

"He said, 'It's great if you like mildew growing between your toes.' "

Smith, a former aide to Democratic Gov. Bill Egan and now a candidate for mayor of Juneau, and Brenneman, a longtime broadcast and print journalist before becoming a full-time mother, met Bush under different circumstances.

Smith was living in Fairbanks when Bush was there briefly during construction of the oil pipeline. She said the year was 1974 or 1975, quipping: "That's how memorable this was."

At the time, she said, she was aware that Bush's father, the future 41st president, was chairman of the Republican National Committee. That would have made the year 1974. Smith said Bush worked for Neil Bergt of Alaska International Air.

Smith was set up with Bush by the late Alex Miller of Juneau, a Democratic national committeeman who also worked for Bergt.

"This was a man who tried to get me married," said Smith, who has remained single. "Alex thought, 'Aha, single guy needs to be connected in the community, and Sally isn't dating anyone. This might work.' "

After the date, "I called back and said, 'What were you thinking?' "

Smith doesn't recall exactly what she and the future governor of Texas did on their date, although she assumes they went to a local pub. But she vividly remembers a scene in her apartment involving a box of gourmet chocolates her mother had brought her from Illinois.

"George was, like, popping them in his mouth and swallowing them whole. I remember taking the box from him and saying, 'I don't remember anyone offering these to you.' "

Smith's mother told her she was rude, she said.

Bush, who has been dogged by allegations he used cocaine in his youth, didn't come off as wild, Smith said.

"He was very boring. ... I didn't see any wild man."

But fleeting impressions can be deceiving, she said.

"I can't see me through his eyes, either. He may have thought of me as a country bumpkin."

Brenneman met Bush in October 1976 in Davenport, Iowa, at the wedding of her college roommate, who had gone to Harvard Business School with him. The bride said Bush reminded her of Brenneman's ex-boyfriend and set them up to be together at the rehearsal dinner.

Brenneman, who had been alternating stints in graduate school in Berkeley, Calif., with reporting jobs in Alaska, had a goal of moving to Juneau to cover the Legislature, which she ultimately did. So she said she was most attentive to Bush's comments about Juneau.

"He was not real enamored of his experience in Juneau. ... He definitely disparaged Juneau."

Brenneman said she got the impression Bush had lived here briefly. But longtime resident Dave Freming, chairman of the Capital City Republicans, said he would have been aware of that, given the notoriety of Bush's father, who was director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1976.

Brenneman quickly told her former roommate that she and George W. weren't going to work out. The next year, Bush got married.

Both Smith and Brenneman said that they don't draw any conclusions about Bush's fitness for the presidency based on their short experiences with him and didn't say whether they would vote for him in November.

"I'm a different person; I'm in my mid-50s," Smith said. "I think the public has a right to judge people by who they are today. ... He's just been an amusing piece of my past."

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