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A cocktail called ‘Avenger’ leads to Ruvo, Bush friendship

Updated December 4, 2018 - 1:14 pm

Larry Ruvo is known for his personal touch. If you casually mention to him that you favor a particular brand of liquor, don’t be surprised if Ruvo will send you a case of the spirit the very next week.

Ruvo’s personal touch reached President George H.W. Bush during the days when the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health was still under construction. In 2002, Bush visited Ruvo, whom he’d met years earlier through Sig Rogich, the former assistant to the president, among other Vegas power players.

Bush was invited to tour the Ruvo Center site and also meet with Ruvo at Southern Wine &Spirits of Nevada (now Southern Glazers of Nevada), where Ruvo serves as senior managing director.

Bush and Ruvo were led to the lavish dining area in the business’ Las Vegas headquarters. They were handed menus, and under “Cocktails,” Bush read aloud, “Avenger! You have a drink called Avenger?”

“Yes, Mr. President,” Ruvo replied.

“Larry, nobody knows what that means,” Bush replied, startled.

“This is not nobody,” Ruvo said with a laugh. “We do our homework.”

The Avenger drink was actually listed specifically for Bush’s visit. It’s the name of the bomber in which Bush was shot down in September 1944 during World War II.

“From that point on, we had a great bond,” Ruvo said Saturday of Bush, who died Friday night at age 94. “He was a major supporter of the work we had planned at the Cleveland Clinic and recorded a video for us during that trip to show his support.”

Ruvo would become finance chair of George W. Bush’s Nevada campaign during the 2004 presidential election. The younger Bush, too, was instrumental in raising awareness for the Cleveland Clinic in its early inception.

The elder Bush invited the Ruvo family to his residence in Kennebunkport, Maine. Larry Ruvo and the former president shared an affection for boating, and took an extended trip on Bush’s yacht.

“He was starting to have problems with Parkinson’s at the time, and when we were coming back in he said, ‘You take it in,’ ” Ruvo said “I went, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Dock this boat.’ So I’m dealing with the man who was commander-in-chief telling me to dock this boat, and it took all of my yachting skills to do it. We got back in, and he said, ‘I have found my new boat captain!’ ”

The Ruvos and Bushes also took a train trip aboard a 1950s-vintage Union Pacific train from Carson City through Northern California, up the California coast and into Oregon. British Prime Minister John Major and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were on that trip, too.

Bush had the train stop at a remote location in the Willamette National Forest and had the group hike to Proxy Falls, a cascading and picturesque natural monument. “We went to this beautiful waterfall together, hiking more than a mile, to get there, then came back on the train,” Ruvo said. “About a year later, Peter Lik, the photographer, comes to visit and shows me this beautiful picture of a waterfall. I said, ‘I’ve been there!’ ”

Lik was in disbelief, given the remote location of the spot. Ruvo then called Bush to verify, who told Lik, “There is a train track there and we hiked to that spot.” Ruvo bought a print of the photo, and it now hangs in the George H.W. Bush Center in College Station, Texas.

“He was absolutely one of the greatest people I’ve known,” Ruvo said of Bush. “When you look at what he has accomplished, his life of service, he deserves all the praise and all the accolades you can give him. George and Barbara Bush were American royalty.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts.

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