41@80: President George H.W. Bush’s Birthday Weekend

June 12-13, 2004
Houston and College Station, Texas

What if you threw a birthday party, and the world came—not the whole world, of course, but the sitting President and First Lady of the United States; the sitting Vice President and his wife; former world leaders Mikhail Gorbachev, John Major of the United Kingdom, Brian Mulroney of Canada, Shimon Peres of Israel, and Carlos Salinas of Mexico; dozens of sports and entertainment stars; the United States Army’s Golden Knights parachute team; 350 members of the national and international media; and 5,000 personal friends?

Dubbed “41 @ 80,” the 80th birthday celebration thrown for George H. W. Bush — the 41st President — presented Begala-McGrath with a series of significant logistics and messaging challenges. The weekend included:

  • Five different event locations—including a concert at Minute Maid Park
  • Two different cities
  • Held on two consecutive days
  • With two different live satellite feeds
  • Benefiting three different causes

Adding to the challenges associated with 41 @ 80 were both the very tight post-9/11 security measures, as well the political climate with President George W. Bush then involved in a tough re-election battle.

Working with the City of Houston, the Houston Astros organization, the Texas A&M University Relations staff, and others, Begala-McGrath managed every facet of the media operation — from press releases and credentialing, to a press conference conducted by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, to a live-to-tape interview conducted by Fox News’ Brit Hume, and more.

In the end, based on the estimates of a nationally respected media tracking firm, over 210 million Americans either saw or read about President Bush’s 80th birthday celebration — not including the substantial coverage the events received in Europe, the Far East and South America. Covering the events that weekend were over 350 members of the media including all four major networks, FOX Cable, CNN, the Russian Network, the Chinese Network, Time Magazine, People Magazine, USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statesman, and more.

Importantly, 41@80 raised a staggering $58 million for the president’s three favorite charities: the University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, The Points of Light Foundation, and the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation located on the campus of Texas A&M University.

To cap it off, the 41st President made his fifth successful parachute jump, earning him parachutist’s wings that were pinned on him by members of the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights team. The wings include a small bronze star, indicating he'd made a combat jump in a hostile area during World War II.

The Bush family on stage at the 41@80 celebration/concert.
Chris Begala observes the Bush mural
President Bush laughs during ceremony at M.D. Anderson
President Bush, Barbara Bush, and Dr. John Mendelsohn at the dedication of the Robin Bush Adolescence Center at MD Anderson.
Houston says “Happy Birthday President Bush
President Bush waves to the crowd before his jump at his Presidential Library.
President Bush (41) parachutes down at his Presidential Library.
Fireworks during 41@80 celebration/concert.