Nearly 20 years ago, former President George H.W. Bush wanted to sponsor a Filipino boy named Timothy through Colorado Springs-based nonprofit Compassion International — but first, he needed a pseudonym.
“He’s passed away now, so it’s probably not a classified name anymore — it was George Walker,” said Wess Stafford, Compassion president emeritus. “That’s the same name that he used, apparently, whenever he checked into a hospital and they needed to have it unknown that he was in there.”
Bush’s security team was worried about Timothy’s safety, said Stafford. If word had gotten out that the child was communicating with a former U.S. president, he could have been in danger.
Through Compassion International, a sponsor writes letters to a child in addition to providing financial support. Bush’s letters were intentionally vague to mask his identity, and all communication between the two of them went through Stafford, who was then president of Compassion.“The first time he started breaking our little security rules was when he sent a picture of his dog, Millie, and he added, ‘This is Millie. She’s met lots of famous people,’” Stafford said, laughing. “And I thought, ‘OK, that’s cute, but boy, that’s starting to slip some little secrets in there.’
“And then years later, he wrote, ‘We’re going to have Christmas this year with my son at his house.’ And then he adds, ‘Oh, and he lives in a big, white house.’ And I’m like, ‘Come on, Mr. President. You are really pushing the envelope here.’ ”
Bush’s sponsorship began around the year 2000 in Washington, D.C., when he was at a Christmas concert featuring a lineup of Christian musicians. During intermission, the performers asked if anyone wanted information about sponsoring a child.
“To everybody’s surprise, all of a sudden George Sr. raises his hand in the middle of his security entourage and says, ‘I want one!’ ” Stafford said. The packet was passed down to him, “and all of these security people were like, ‘Has anybody screened this? Does anybody know if this is OK or not?’ ”