Bush pal Phelps: About people, not politics

  • The Washington Examiner
  • |
  • August 30, 2005

by Karen Feld

Legendary Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps, now an ESPN announcer, visited his old pals President George Bush 41 and Barbara at Walker Point, Maine, last weekend. Phelps was performing in “Love Letters” as a benefit for the historic Deertrees Theatre Festival in Harrison, Maine, and borrowed a friend’s Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible for the 90-minute drive to Kennebunkport. The former president pulled up in the slow lane in his golf cart as Phelps was driving in and was impressed with the sporty vehicle but wouldn’t trade. They talked about the play and Bush told Phelps, “You acted when you were coach, so I can see the transition.”

“We never talk politics; we talk sports,” said Phelps, who calls himself a “Reagan Democrat” but worked in Bush 41’s “Weed and Seed” drug program for the White House.

“I play people; I never play parties,” added the retired coach, who recalls first meeting the former president when Bush was ambassador to the U.N. in 1971. They played together at the Bogey Buster charity golf tournament in Ohio and became fast friends.

Golf with 41; baseball with 43

The twins, Jenna and Barbara, were visiting their grandparents and joined Digger for lunch. He told them that he remembered meeting them when they were youngsters. Phelps told the gals, “I would sit with your dad next to the dugout at Ranger games, and you would sit with your mom three rows back.” Digger’s son-in-law, pitcher Jamie Moyer, was traded from the Chicago Cubs to the Texas Rangers when “GW,” as Phelps affectionately refers to the president, owned the Rangers. Moyer now pitches for the Seattle Mariners.

Party girls get educated

Phelps has a commitment to “correcting education in this country” and was pleased to see that both twins “have connected with the have-nots.” Jenna is teaching third grade at a D.C. charter school; and Barbara is on her way back to South Africa until November to work with kids who suffer from AIDS. He told them about his efforts to encourage corporations to pay for after-school programs including the arts. “Where’s the next Louis Armstrong coming from?” he asked.

Phelps’ friendship with George W. Bush, the current president, began in the ’80s when Digger was bringing football recruits to the Morris Inn at Notre Dame. “GW” and Joe O’Neill Jr., who with his wife introduced “GW” to Laura, hung out there as well.

Chelsea gets cozy with bud Mezvinsky

And speaking of presidential kids, now that former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, 25, is no longer off limits to the press, we can tell you that the buzz around New York is that she and her Oxford Rhodes Scholar boyfriend, Ian Klass, 25, have broken up. Trouble escalated when he left for Iraq earlier in the year, and now that he’s back in New York, it’s final after three years. No longer the introverted first daughter, Chelsea is bright, poised and earning a six-figure salary working for McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm headquartered in New York. Friends say she’s once again hanging out with longtime guy pal Marc Mezvinsky, who works for Goldman Sachs and whose mom is broadcaster-turned-congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, D-Pa. His father is former U.S. Rep. Ed Mezvinsky, D-Iowa, who pleaded guilty to fraud charges in 2002.

Perfect pitch before opening pitch

Baseball fans will be treated to a special serenade on Labor Day when world-famous tenor Placido Domingo, general director of the Washington National Opera, sings the national anthem at the Nationals’ home game against the Florida Marlins. Domingo, a Nats fan, will also sing “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch.

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