BIDDEFORD, Maine — Sgt. Timothy Roy of the New York Police Department took the day off from work to be available to pick his son up after the boy’s first day of preschool. But the officer got called in to work for an emergency, and he left a voice message telling his son he loved him and that he couldn’t wait to hear all about that first day of school.
That was Sept. 11, 2001, said Jenna Bush Hager, and Sgt. Roy never came home. Hager interviewed Timmy Jr., now a teenager, last year at a camp for children who lost parents in the terrorist attacks that destroyed New York’s World Trade Center towers.
Hager, a former first daughter and first granddaughter, told a Biddeford audience Monday night about the younger Roy, as well as others home and abroad who have overcome tragedies, and said those stories can serve as motivation for those who want to help others.
Hager, who has become an NBC News correspondent and best-selling author since her time in the White House, said the victims of tragedies she has interviewed around the world are not seeking pity.
Interviewing a 17-year-old single mother in Latin America who would become the subject of Hager’s bestselling book, “Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope,” the teen, who had been infected with HIV/AIDS since birth, saw Hager jot down the word “sickness” in her notebook and took issue with it.
Ana had made it a point of telling others, Hager recalled, that she was “living” with HIV/AIDS, not dying of it.
Hager said she met two teenagers in Senegal with similar stories, and said their forward-looking optimism, against all odds, inspired her.
“They were both young and beautiful, and they had both been abused by men in their communities and had gotten infected with HIV/AIDS. Not only did their parents kick them out of their homes, but they had been chased out of their communities and were living with that stigma,” she said.
Hager, who met Ana while interning abroad in 2006 with humanitarian organization UNICEF, remains active with the group now. At her Monday night lecture at the University of New England’s Biddeford campus, she told a largely student audience that giving to the less fortunate isn’t an act of pity, but rather a deserved boost to people who often aren’t letting their circumstances define them.
Hager is the daughter of former U.S. President George W. Bush and granddaughter of President George H.W. Bush. Her talk Monday night represented the third in an annual lecture series named after her grandfather and grandmother, former first lady Barbara Bush, who have a summer home in nearby Kennebunkport.
The 2012 Bush Distinguished Lecture also coincided with the launch of the photography exhibit “Family First for a First Family — The Ties That Bind: A Family Album,” documenting the lives of her grandparents at their George and Barbara Bush Center Gallery at UNE.
Hager also used the occasion to talk about her love of education, saying teachers should be respected more in American society and that school days may need to be longer than eight hours, and to joke about her family life.
She said her parents are enjoying retirement in Texas, and recalled a time more than two decades ago when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush stayed up late searching 90 minutes for her twin sister’s lost stuffed animal the night before a presidential candidates’ debate.
In response to an audience member’s question about whether she had ever met pop singer Justin Bieber, Hager said she hadn’t, but that she had interviewed the members of the British boy band One Direction.
“They called me a ‘cougar,’” Hager laughed. “But I’m only 30, so I was sort of offended.”
A graduate of the University of Texas, she also co-authored a children’s book about the importance of reading with her mother, former first lady Laura Bush.