President Bush's former Secret Service driver remembers then-VP

Thomas Conaty stands with his wife, Diana and three kids, Clifford, Dan and Chad, next to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush outside the Vice President's residency at the Naval Observatory . Conaty served on Bush's Secret Service detail from 1981 to to 1983. (Photo Courtesy/ Jim Conaty)

Whether they're sitting in shadow boxes, or hung inside a frame, there are a lot of memories in what Thomas Conaty refers to as his "Man Cave" in the upper level of his Southport, N.C. home.

He's lived there for 14 years, following a rich career of service to his country. Service that did not go unnoticed.

His walls are lined with souvenirs and awards from his three years in the Marine Corps. But he didn't stop there. Perhaps one of the more important tasks of his career came in 1981 when he was assigned to be on then-Vice President George H.W. Bush's Secret Service detail.

"There's the prestige of being around the White House and there's also the daily grind where you're standing in front of an elevator shaft in the basement of some lonely hotel 3,000 miles from home," he said, in his home Wednesday. "Ultimately, you're there to protect the physical well-being of the family."

Those experiences away from home helped forge a bond with the president. His whole team of agents were treated by the vice president, in some sense, like family.

He and wife, Barbara Bush, or "Bar" as Conaty said Bush called her, invited Conaty to parties and sent handwritten holiday notes.

"You will never find a more decent human being in your entire life," he said.

As millions of people from around the country gathered to remember their president, Conaty remembered the man who considered him part of the family.

He said there were plenty of stories, often times, they were funny moments, like when Bush accepted his daughter Dorothy's request to get ice cream in 1981.

"Dorothy says, 'Can we stop and get an ice cream?' And he says, 'Yeah, sure, let's pull over. Here's a quarter for an ice cream cone.' And she goes, 'Are you kidding me?' And then she goes, 'Well, Dad, they're a dollar fifty and he goes, 'Are you kidding me,'" said Conaty.

Some stories portrayed Bush's competitiveness and "need for speed," especially when he was on the open water in his cigarette boat.

"He loved to speed," said Conaty. Naturally, we had to be in a little, 20-foot Maine fish and wildlife boat with one engine trying to keep up. So, he would gun it probably 40, 50 miles an hour on the ocean and I was assigned one particular day in a wet suit, in case he fell overboard, I was gonna jump in after him."

Meanwhile, Conaty said, he was holding on for "dear life" on the back of the captain's chair, struggling to keep up with Bush when suddenly, the boat hit some bumpy waves. Conaty broke a few ribs.

On the way back, Bush talked to him about the injury.

"He was so concerned. He gave me a little vice president's medallion that I keep today as part of my key chain and I have it always with me," he said, while pulling it out of his pocket.

Those years of service were dangerous, but he cared about who would eventually become the 41st President of the United States of America.

Conaty said he's going to make sure the medallion stays in the family. He said he and other agents occasionally get together. They have dozens of stories, often comical, memorized by number.

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