2006 REALTORS® CONFERENCE & EXPO: Keynote Speakers

Bush, Clinton salute REALTOR® efforts in New Orleans

October 1, 2006

The desire to help our fellow human beings in need transcends politics and ideologies. A living embodiment of this truth is the seemingly unlikely partnership of former U.S. presidents George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton. Brought together initially to support U.S. relief efforts after the 2004 Asian tsunami, the pair next turned their efforts to the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast. To date, the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund has announced almost $100 million in grants to rebuild communities. Relief efforts focus on health, housing, infrastructure, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education.

NAR is honored to welcome these two distinguished humanitarians to its NARdi Gras celebration. The former presidents will jointly address the all-attendee General Session of the 2006 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans on Saturday, Nov. 11, which begins at 4 p.m. The General Session is sponsored by REBAC, the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council.

Recently, REALTOR® Magazine asked the former presidents to talk about their experiences in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast region and the ongoing relief efforts of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.

What images or memories from your post-Katrina visits to the Gulf region will stay with you?

Bush: Two images come to mind immediately. First was the shock at seeing the total destruction of cities along the coasts of both Louisiana and Mississippi. It was as if a nuclear bomb had gone off. Where there had been life, there was nothing.

Second was visiting evacuees in Houston a week after the storm. They were living on cots on the floor of the Astrodome, many of them still wondering what had happened to their home, or worse, a family member. Yet, what Barbara and I noticed most was their determination, their sense of optimism, and their strong faith.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the region?

Bush: Hurricane Katrina was the biggest disaster in the history of the country. The amount of damage was staggering, affecting more than 1 million people. So it's no wonder that a year later, people are still struggling to put their lives back together. Housing, jobs, schools all remain areas of concern. The biggest challenge for all of us is not to forget the ongoing struggle in the Gulf Coast region and to continue doing all we can to help. The region will come back but not without patience and persistence.

Clinton: There are many challenges still facing the Gulf Coast region. It’s imperative that all of us work to get the entire region in even better shape than it was the day before the hurricane hit. People still need help rebuilding, finding jobs, and getting their lives back in order. We still have a long way to go, but I believe we’ll get there.

What does it mean to the city of New Orleans to have REALTORS® traveling there to attend a conference and provide volunteer assistance?

Bush: For New Orleans to recover, it's essential that the tourists and the convention business return. I applaud the REALTORS® for deciding to keep their commitment to New Orleans. Your confidence in this great city sets an important example and hopefully will go a long way in bringing other groups back. The fact that while you’re there, you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and give some much needed assistance is just further proof that we truly are a great and giving country.

Clinton: There’s a great opportunity here to work together to get the economy moving and to find homes for people who need them. There are REALTORS® here from all over the country working to help the people who live here. It’s a great sight and one of the great things about our country; when we see someone in trouble, we help each other. [Nineteenth-century author] Alexis de Tocqueville said, “America is great because America is good.” He cited Americans’ willingness to volunteer in civil associations, like fire departments, and their willingness to help each other. I’m proud to see that today we still live up to Tocqueville’s observation.

What has been the most gratifying part of your work with the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund?

Bush: The great spirit of the American people still amazes and inspires me. From the schoolchildren who donated their pennies to large corporations who gave millions, Americans from across the country and from all walks of life opened their pocketbooks and hearts.

I also was happy for an opportunity to partner again with President Clinton—the “odd couple,” as Barbara calls us. People are amazed we can put our political differences aside and work together. Our friendship shows that it's possible to disagree in the political arena and then go have dinner. That's how it should be.

Clinton: The most gratifying part of my work with the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund has been seeing the tenacity and resilience of the people whose lives were upended by this disaster, and it has been satisfying working with President Bush to try to help these people.

I’m also very optimistic about the opportunity to make New Orleans a “green city.” Climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge facing the world today because it’s the only challenge that risks reshaping the entire world and affecting the lives of everyone on our planet. And I’m proud that in the rebuilding efforts after Katrina, we were able to take initial steps toward rebuilding the region to be energy efficient and environmentally friendly. There’s still a great deal to be done to fully achieve this, but it’s a start.

What are the goals of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund going forward?

Bush: We actually are in the process of closing the fund. We felt it was important that once the money was raised, to give it out as quickly as possible. We are very close to accomplishing that goal.

Chuck Paustian is a former REALTOR® Magazine senior editor.

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