Lennie Sanders knew a good story when she heard it.
As a resident biographer and playwright at Brookdale First Colony in Sugar Land, a retirement community for senior living, she uncovers interesting facts about many of the residents, some of which are former members of the armed forces.
Take Raleigh Fitzhugh, for example. He spent 33 years in the U.S. Air Force and was a trusted aide to several three- and four-star generals. He had a second rewarding career with USAA, an insurance company that serves military members. He also has two very special neckties he received from President George H.W. Bush.
“I’ve been writing biographies people who live here” Sanders said. “The stories are so interesting. When Raleigh told me how he had been an aide to all of these four-star generals, working in the catering department at USAA, I was intrigued. Then he showed me this tie, and I wrote a biography about it.”
The biographies of Fitzhugh and several other residents are found in “Telling Lives,” a book proudly displayed at the Brookdale front office.
But back to the tie.
As Fitzhugh tells it, he was working as the catering coordinator in the food services division in San Antonio, primarily serving military employees. Since retirement, he no longer needed to wear a uniform, but he would wear a different Mickey Mouse tie to work every day.
“When I retired from USAA, I had 70 Mickey Mouse ties!” he said.
While working at USAA in 1993, President Bush arrived in San Antonio to play golf with his friend, the CEO of USAA. A private plane arrived after golf, and Fitzhugh, assigned to the company plane as a Steward, was onboard.
“It was late by the time everyone was back on the plane. I offered the President a glass of milk, which he accepted,” Fitzhugh said. “I realized he hadn’t eaten, so I also offered dinner for his flight back to Houston.”
As the President noticed Fitzhugh’s Mickey Mouse tie, he said, “I have a Mickey Mouse tie. I don’t know if it’s in Maine or in Houston. If I run across it, I will send it to you”
Fitzhugh said thank you, but wasn’t quite believing what he heard.
“I left the room and said to the Secret Service guy, ‘hey, he just offered me a tie’ kinda laughing, and the Secret Service guy says, ‘If he said it, he will send it.’ Sure enough, a couple weeks later, a red Mickey Mouse tie showed up, with a tie pin, along with a note.”
Then a second Mickey Mouse tie arrived, thanks to Sanders.
At Brookdale earlier this year, Sanders had asked Fitzhugh if he ever wrote the President a note thanking him for the red Mickey Mouse tie. Fitzhugh said no.
“So he asked me to write it,” Sanders said.
And she did, thanking the President for the tie sent to her friend in1993, plus including her short biography on Fitzhugh.
“A couple of months later a package arrived with a letter stating how nice it was to ‘update him on Raleigh’s life since their first meeting in 1993 … I was stunned,” Sanders said.
Also included in the package from the President was a blue tie showing the commissioning of the George Herbert Walker Bush Aircraft Carrier – dated Oct. 7, 2006.
Both ties are proudly displayed in Fitzhugh’s apartment at Brookdale.
During his Air Force career, Fitzhugh worked with nine different generals, at several state and foreign Air Force bases, along with his first job in Washington, D.C., as an aide to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. William H. Blanchard, and for the Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command.
“I thought it was wonderful of Lennie to write that biography and taking care of letter writing for me,” said Fitzhugh. “It has helped me meet more people at Brookdale, and opened up new conversations with other residents.”