Forty-three Aprils ago, a young reporter from Newsday came to Glasgow to cover a championship checker tournament. Through The Glasgow Daily Times, she sought a photographer to accompany her at the event. For a few days the reporter and the photographer worked together, doing what reporters and photographers do. In addition to the Newsday coverage, the stories went out over the LA Times-Washington Post wire service.
The reporter was Susan Page. The photographer was me.
These days, Susan is the Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today and a frequent guest on CBS This Morning. She’s also a biographer. Her book, “The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of the American Dynasty,” was published earlier this month.
During a recent conversation, I asked Susan if she remembered her trip to Glasgow.
“I remember very clearly,” she responded. “Who would not remember their first trip out of town as a reporter? Since then, of course, I’ve ended up reporting from six continents and dozens of foreign countries, but I remember that first trip very well.”
She described Glasgow as a “friendly town,” where she said, “people were very nice.”
Susan regarded that trip as a good experience. “You have to do something a couple of times to learn how it works. Glasgow was like graduate school for me.”
She had started working as a reporter for Newsday, and soon had the opportunity to do out of town trips. She described the early trip assignments, like the first one to Glasgow, as crucial training for everything that followed. “I’m grateful to the people of Glasgow,” she said, “for making that a pleasant experience and not a terrifying one.”
“What have been some highlights of your reporting since 1976?”
Susan told me she had interviewed the past nine Presidents. “Given that we’ve only had 44 Presidents, that seems like a lot. Either I’m very old or we’re a very young country, ‘cause I’ve interviewed more than one out of five of the people who’ve ever served as President. “ Then she added, “I’ll tell you another highlight. I interviewed Stephen Hawking in 2000.” She described that encounter as “pretty remarkable.”
For the recently published biography, Susan had five interviews with Barbara Bush and more than a hundred with other sources.
While Susan contends America really thought they knew Barbara Bush, she hopes the book may help readers even better understand the former First Lady. “She was consequential in the things she did both during her husband’s Presidency and during her son’s Presidency on issues like AIDS, for instance.” Susan also feels Mrs. Bush was a more complicated woman than most people realized. “She had more pain and grief in her life than most folks understood, so that was the story I wanted to tell.”
I asked what it had been like to interview the Matriarch.
Susan was quick to respond, “It was great. She was candid and honest. She was funny and sharp. At the end of the fifth interview she said I could see her diaries, which was something I hadn’t expected, and which was a great privilege.”
I’m not surprised Susan was received so well during those interviews. While I don’t remember much about the checker tournament, I do remember getting to know Susan. She impressed me as someone who was very bright and interested in her work. And she was incredibly nice. I suspect Barbara Bush may have found her to be the same.