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UC staffer honored to attend George H.W. Bush state funeral

Program manager in Department of Environmental Health previously worked for Bush administration

Teresa Donovan, program manager for the Center for Environmental Genetics (CEG) in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, had the honor of attending the presidential funeral services for George H.W. Bush.

Teresa Donovan in her office.

Teresa Donovan is program manager for the Center for Environmental Genetics, housed in the College of Medicine.

Bush died Nov. 30 at the age of 94. He served as the 41st president from 1989 to 1993, the pinnacle of a career that spanned four decades in public service.

Donovan served in the Reagan-Bush White House beginning in August 1988 and throughout the Bush administration’s entire term. Working first in the Office of Policy for then-Vice President George Bush, under policy advisor Charles Greenleaf Jr., she went on to work for Shirley Green in the White House Office of Presidential Messages and Correspondence as a senior writer and editor.

Donovan, who has been at UC since 2014, was among former commission White House staff members invited to attend the state funeral, and was appreciative to her department and Shuk-Mei Ho, PhD, Jacob G. Schmidlapp Professor and Chair of Environmental Health, who allowed for her to take leave on very short notice.

Donovan describes it as a “fast and emotion-filled trip,” with many profound and heart-rending moments to witness.

“In addition to being first and foremost a private family funeral, it also was a historic gathering, in my view, of the entire American family … For one historic day, world leaders and Americans of all stripes were united in paying tribute to a fallen hero and to the spirit of dignity, kindness and courage that he and his generation exemplified. I was very grateful I could be there,” she says.

screenshot of an invitation to the funeral of George H.W. Bush

Donovan's email invitation to the state funeral of President Bush.

Donovan describes a bittersweet feeling among former colleagues gathered at the National Cathedral on Dec. 5, and she and her former boss, Green, marveled at the outpouring of respect and compassion from the American people—many of whom lined the streets of the procession and waited in line for hours to file past the president lying in state.

One of several moments that stood out to her was when Donovan recognized Lech Walesa, the founder of the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union (Poland’s Solidarity\Solidarnośc), approaching as everyone merged in the cathedral’s center aisle as the service ended. “Having worked at the Voice of America just prior to the collapse of the Iron Curtain and fall of the Berlin Wall, I was thrilled to be able to shake Mr. Walesa’s hand and to thank him and His Holiness John Paul II for all they had done to advance the cause of freedom in Central Europe and worldwide,” she says.

Donovan says she feels she lacks the words to describe the beautiful and befitting tribute to President Bush on that day. Her tenure spent at the White House is something she carries with her into her role at UC and in everyday life. “I think with gratitude about my teachers and all those who are called to teach, as well as my brother Jim, (James R. Donovan Jr, MD, an assistant professor at UC College of Medicine).  As President Bush’s legacy of humble service reminds us, each of us possesses only what has been given to us by others,” she adds.

The procedures for state funerals date back to the 1800s with William Henry Harrison, who is buried in nearby North Bend, Ohio, being the first one on record. Details down to individual seating arrangements are made with care and precision, with the presidential party followed by chiefs of state, arranged alphabetically by the English spelling of their countries.

“I think that on the day of the state funeral itself the hearts of all those present were full in a myriad of ways,” notes Donovan. “I could not help but also think of my late father’s amazing life and legacy and be filled with gratitude for the tremendous sacrifices that he and my mother made for their 10 children.”

“President George H.W. Bush first served our nation in World War II and—like my own father, who had served in the OSS—was a distinguished member of what we rightly call ‘The Greatest Generation.’ They have given us outstanding examples of selflessness, courage and devotion to faith, family and freedom.” 

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