How Past Presidents Spent Their Time After Leaving the White House

past presidents of usa

Bill Clinton
Though he left the White House in 2001, after serving two terms, Clinton has been an active presence in the political sphere. Upon leaving Washington, D.C., he moved to Chappaqua, New York, the home-base of his wife, former first lady and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. ( past presidents of usa)

In New York, he maintained an office and remained involved in issues of public concern through the Clinton Presidential Foundation, founded in 1997 and renamed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation in 2013. (The foundation has sometimes been an albatross around the neck of the Clintons, dogged by scrutiny from conservatives even as it has undertaken global humanitarian work.)

“Clinton has continued to talk about contemporary events after his presidency and tried to make his foundation very public in its policy contributions,” Engel says.

Now 74, former President Clinton had a number of heart health issues after leaving office, undergoing quadruple bypass surgery in 2004, a procedure to repair a partially collapsed lung in 2015 and receiving two coronary stents in 2010.

George W. Bush

“I believe no one has ever sprinted out of the Oval Office faster [than W. Bush],” Engel says. “He was thoroughly exhausted, to the core and to the bone.”

The younger Bush — who served for two terms — presided over Middle East war, the beginnings of the Great Recession and the September 11th attacks, all of which took a toll, at least mentally. He left the presidency under a cloud of national discontent epitomized by the resounding defeat of his would-be Republican successor, Arizona Sen. John McCain.


The younger Bush made pledges to stay out of politics upon leaving office, and he has kept his promise — no surprise, according to Engel: “That pledge was made with a bit of a smirk. What he was really saying was, ‘I actually have no desire to say anything about politics.’ “

After leaving office in 2009, Bush returned home to Texas, where he’s spent time developing a new hobby — painting, often in service of various humanitarian causes — and presiding over the creation of the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University.

As Engel points out, Bush’s charity work has been quite extensive as well, though he’s been more quiet about it than some other former presidents. He hosts an annual 100k mountain bike ride to fundraise for wounded veterans and has also traveled to Africa to raise awareness for cervical cancer.

The now 74-year-old published his memoir, Decision Points, in 2010 and published a biography of his father, titled 41: A Portrait of My Father, in 2014.

Barack Obama

One of the youngest outgoing presidents in history, Obama left office in 2017 at the age of 54. His first year post-presidency was spent like many retirees: He vacationed in the Caribbean, perfected his golf swing and spent time with his family.

In 2014, he launched the Obama Foundation, which will eventually unveil a presidential museum and public gathering space in Chicago.

Though he at first remained silent about many of his successor’s policies, that changed in the run-up to the 2020 election, particularly amid the spiking death toll brought on by the novel coronavirus. In August, he offered perhaps his most stunning rebuke of Trump yet, in a speech aired as part of the virtual Democratic National Convention in which he said democracy was at stake.

“When Obama spoke at the DNC — and frankly, in apocalyptic terms — that was really unusual, for a president to be that dire in their criticism,” Engel says, adding that “from Obama’s perspective, it was generally warranted.”

Now 59, Obama recently released the first of a two-volume presidential memoir, A Promised Land, which reportedly sold 1.7 million copies in its first week, far outpacing other recent such books.

Engel says: “We’ve had presidents who wrote memoirs to make money … but one gets a sense that Obama would write, even if he were not getting paid.”

Tina Smith

Tina Smith

Leave a Replay