Former governor remembers Sept. 10th dinner with Bushes

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Fourteen years after terrorists killed nearly 3,000 Americans on our own soil, former Gov. Bob Martinez opened his home to a reporter for the first time to show a menu signed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001.

"It is a very special piece to me," said Martinez.

After a lifetime in politics, his home is filled with dozens of artifacts.

"I had no inkling I was going to get into politics at all," he said. "The ones we have felt the closest to, we have framed."

His home office is filled with pictures of his time as mayor of Tampa, a shell from the 21-gun salute fired when he was inaugurated governor in 1987, and a license plate from his vehicle with the number "1."

But more important than the things he collected are the memories they represent.

He has pictures from meetings with Presidents Jimmy Carter, Reagan, and both presidents Bush.

A friendship with that family would lead to acquiring his biggest keepsake.

He served as a campaign chair for George H.W. Bush in 1988, after Jeb Bush served as his own secretary of commerce.

When President George W. Bush was scheduled to promote education reform on Sept. 11, 2001 in Sarasota, he invited Martinez for dinner on the 10th.

"You get a call (asking) if you'd like to have dinner," recalled Martinez. "You always have time; you get a call like that you will cancel everything else other than your own child's birthday!"

At the president's hotel in Longboat Key, Martinez and ten others joined the president and Gov. Jeb Bush for dinner.

"It was one of those things where it was a bunch of friends," said Martinez. "You were talking football. You were talking baseball. No politics."

The Colony Hotel had a menu printed for their special guests.

"I was sitting next to the president," said Martinez. "I said to the president, 'Would you sign this for Mary Jane, my wife?' He said, 'Oh, absolutely!' He signs it."

Soon the governor's signature joined the president's. George W. Bush signed "With affection," while Jeb added cupid's arrow.

"It was such a happy evening," said Martinez.

Martinez brought the keepsake back to his home in South Tampa.

"For once, I was careful. I didn't fold it, I didn't do any of that."

And gave the one-of-a-kind item to his wife.

"My husband was thinking of me and felt bad I didn't get to go," said Mary Jane Martinez.

By the next morning, it was as if America's passage into a new era -- of war and a persistent feeling of danger -- was unknowingly stamped by the president himself.

"I took it right away and had it framed," said Mary Jane Martinez.

"There you are in one of the worst moments in American history, in less than 24 hours (after the dinner)," said Martinez.

Their shared moment of innocence was not lost on the president.

Seven days after their dinner, a letter arrived from the president, on White House stationary.

"(That) is very special," said Martinez, reading: "Dear Bob, I am sorry my trip to Florida was cut short…I know you will join Laura and me in praying for the families and loved ones of the victims."

Both the menu and the follow-up letter are framed, as reminders of how good things can be, and how quickly things can change.

"It's my treasure," Mary Jane added.