Former President George H.W. Bush has made his final journey home.
Air Force One, the Boeing 747 aircraft carrying Bush’s body, landed Wednesday evening at Houston’s Ellington Field following a state funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC, where he was remembered as a statesman of uncommon personal kindness.
The same military aircraft, nicknamed Special Air Mission 41 in honor of the 41st president, had taken his body to Washington on Monday to lie in state at the Capitol.
Mourners gathered at the airport to pay their respects to Bush as a black hearse waited for the flag-draped casket on the tarmac.
While Bush’s casket was escorted from the aircraft to the hearse, former President George W. Bush, his wife Laura, and several other family members trailed behind as a military band played ‘Hail to the Chief.’
A motorcade then drove 45 minutes to St. Martin’s Episcopal Church where Bush will lie in repose overnight.
About 1,200 mourners are expected for the service at the church on Thursday morning. Delivering a eulogy is James Baker, Bush’s former secretary of state and longtime confidant.
Bush’s grandson George P. Bush will give the other eulogy. He is the Texas land commissioner.
Air Force One (pictured), the Boeing 747 aircraft carrying the body of former President George H.W. Bush, has landed at Houston’s Ellington Field following a state funeral in Washington, DC, where he was remembered as a statesman of uncommon personal kindness
A joint services military honor guard (pictured) escorted Bush’s casket from the aircraft to a black hearse at Ellington Air Field
Bush died last week at the age of 94, and will be laid to rest at his presidential library in College Station, Texas, on Thursday following a funeral service in Houston
From the airport, a motorcade will make the 45-minute drive to St. Martin Episcopal Church where Bush will lie in repose beginning at 6.45pm
Bush’s family members are seen exiting Air Force One Wednesday evening as they prepare to head to St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush are seen walking to the hearse as the casket of arrives at Ellington Field Wednesday evening
Mourners gathered at the airport to pay their respects to Bush as a black hearse waited for the flag-draped casket on the tarmac
Bush died last week at the age of 94, and will be laid to rest at his presidential library in College Station, Texas, on Thursday following a funeral service in Houston.
‘George H.W. Bush was America’s last great soldier-statesman,’ Jon Meacham, a presidential biographer, said in a eulogy at the service in Washington.
‘He stood in the breach in the Cold War against totalitarianism. He stood in the breach in Washington against unthinking partisanship.’
Americans mourned Bush on Wednesday, glued to a national memorial service that remembered the way he lived: with the contradictions of tears and laughter, pomp and humility, a warrior’s resolve and a father’s heart.
Bush’s son, the 43rd president, eulogized him as ‘a great and noble man’ and war hero, but teared up at the thought of a heavenly reunion with his wife and their leukemia-stricken daughter who died in 1953 before her fourth birthday.
‘In our grief, I just smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again,’ the younger Bush said at the National Cathedral.
George W. broke into sobs at the end of his touching eulogy to his father on Wednesday. He paid tribute to him as the ‘best father a son or daughter can have’ and honored his service to the country as both the 41st president and during the war
The ceremony, packed with elements of kingly reverence, included moments of laughter as he seemed to swap jokes with an historian, a former Canadian prime minister and a former senator in eulogies separated by majestic musical tributes.
George W. buckled with grief as he called his dad ‘the best father a son or daughter can have’.
‘We’re going to miss you. Your decency, sincerity and your kind soul will stay with us forever,’ he said, fixing his gaze on a flag-draped casket. Rapturous applause followed, as much for father as for son.
Eleven years ago, Bush Sr spoke about the process of planning his own funeral, wondering if anyone of significance would come.
Heads of state and celebrities flew in by the dozen, along with every living former US president and vice president.
Wednesday’s once-in-a-generation funeral – at times both soul-searing and hilarious – was the centerpiece of four days of events including two Air Force One flights, a 70-mile train trip, three services and more than 30 hours lying in state under the cavernous dome of the US Capitol.
Republicans and Democrats, an estimated 57,000 in all, lined up there for hours before paying their final respects in a hushed quiet that’s rare in America’s bustling legislative headquarters.
Ninety-five-year-old Bob Dole – a former senator and, like Bush, an undisputed World War II hero – made the most dramatic silent statement.
He rose from his wheelchair for a moment, determined to stand just long enough to salute his fallen comrade.
As he made his way back from the pulpit, George W. placed a loving hand on his father’s flag-draped casket as he cried
The former president received rapturous applause from the congregation, many of whom were left in tears by his emotional tribute
After roaring applause from the congregation, George W. was comforted by his wife and his brother Jeb as he returned to his pew. He sobbed some more then started smiling, kissed his wife and clutched his brother’s hand
As the cathedral filled with applause, George W. smiled through his tears and started laughing, entirely overcome with emotion after the two-hour long service
The former president was comforted enthusiastically by his proud brother Jeb who grabbed his hand the minute he sat back down and squeezed it after listening to him eulogize their father. Jeb spoke at their mother’s funeral in April
The Bushes were uplifted as they left the service, smiling and greeting mourners as they made their way out of the cathedral
Bush Sr’s casket is carried out of the National Cathedral on Wednesday to be taken to Joint Base Andrews. He will be laid to rest in the same cemetery where his wife and daughter are buried
George W. and Laura Bush surprised mourners Tuesday night, returning for a second visit hours after a polished and televised arrival ceremony.
Seeing a mother and child in the crowd, his eyes lit up and he was at once the all-smiles president Americans knew during the eight months before the 9/11 terror attacks.
He held the tiny girl aloft and posed for photos with his father’s casket in the background, a tableau that spanned five generations and nearly a century of American history.
A 10-minute walk to the south was the office where Bush Sr began his national political career, a four-year stint in Congress during which he occupied the office space now belonging to New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries.
Bush will reach his final resting place Thursday, a plot on the grounds of his presidential library at Texas A&M University where Robin and former first lady Barbara wait for him
That preceded White House assignments as a special envoy to China and ambassador to the United Nations.
Bush was later the director of the CIA before spending eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
In 1988 he became was the first sitting vice president in 150 years to succeed his boss in the Oval Office.
Bush will reach his final resting place Thursday, a plot on the grounds of his presidential library at Texas A&M University where Robin waits for him along with former first lady Barbara.
They were married for 73 years.
The service will take place at 10am Thursday and at 12.45pm, his body will be taken to the Union Pacific Railroad Westfield Auto Facility for the final ride to the cemetery at Texas A&M University.
Officials said the university will be closed for the day.
The trip will be made by Union Pacific 4141, which was commissioned in Bush’s honor.
Wednesday’s funeral procession to the cathedral followed the fanfare and pageantry of a departure from the Capitol, complete with a 21-gun salute, the fourth since Monday, booming over a quiet, damp Washington morning.
Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines saluted their former commander-in-chief.
Mourners lined the streets and watched as a black Cadillac hearse bearing the Seal of the President of the United States arrived at a stately house of God.
Many of the remarks at Wednesday’s service were about how George H.W. was looking forward to reuniting with his wife Barbara, who died in April, and Robin, their toddler daughter they lost in 1953, to leukemia
Bush’s casket is seen being carried in to the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on Wednesday
DC’s biggest bells tolled as pallbearers representing every military service branch walked a somber cadence. Crosses and candles shared a procession with a single American flag.
Alleluias rang out, led by a military chorus and the church’s own choir including children too young to have known any national leader named Bush.
The surviving President Bush, now his family’s most visible legacy, entered the cathedral last along with former first lady Laura, taking his place with other family members in front pew across a well-worn aisle from President Donald Trump and every living former president.
He was seen fighting back tears as his father’s remains left the Capitol.
But a more stoic Bush stood at attention for his father along with more than 1,000 other black-clad Americans as men in dress uniforms gently placed the coffin at the altar.
Trump, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama sat wordlessly through nearly two hours of remembrances, a tribute to the man for whom they showed varying degrees of contempt and admiration while he was alive.
Jeb Bush is pictured wiping a tear during the memorial service for his father on Wednesday
There were laughs among the tears as the first of several speakers gave glowing and emotional tributes to the former president
George W. laughs along with his wife Laura as they listen to eulogies dedicated to his father at Wednesday’s service
Jeb Bush laughs while his sister-in-law wipes a tear from her eye and former George W. smirks at them both as Jon Meacham, a journalist who penned George H.W.’s biography, speaks
Former president Bush closed his eyes tightly as the family left the cathedral following the service on Wednesday
George W. and his wife led his siblings into the service on Wednesday morning. Behind them is his brother Jeb with his wife Columba, Neil Bush with his wife Maria, Marvin Bush with his wife Margaret and, not pictured, their sister Dorothy with her husband Bobby Koch
Outside, mourners gathered to watch the former president’s casket as it was put back into the hearse to be driven to Joint Base Andrews
Trump has been consistently critical of the late Bush for his military adventurism and regime-change policies in the Persian Gulf and Panama, which he believes sacrificed too much American blood and treasure for minimal return.
He even mocked Bush’s Thousand Points of Light volunteerism program this summer, claiming his ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan provided a better, more aspirational vision.
Following Bush’s death, the current president treated Americans to a kinder, gentler Trump.
‘We lost a president who truly was a wonderful person, a wonderful man, a great man,’ he told reporters Saturday during the G20 summit in Argentina.
On Wednesday he proclaimed the cathedral service ‘not a funeral’ but ‘a day of celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life.’
Trump didn’t deliver a eulogy. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday that George W. had ‘dibs’ on the unusual occasion of a former president eulogizing a parent who had held the same office.
SPECIAL AIR MISSION 41: FINAL FLIGHT HOME
George H.W.’s casket was taken to Joint Base Andrews after the service to be boarded onto Air Force One and flown home to Texas
Former president George W. waved goodbye to DC after an emotional morning mourning the loss of his father before boarding Air Force One
Air Force One departed Air Base Andrews on Wednesday afternoon before landing in Texas shortly after 5pm
Even John Quincy Adams, America’s 6th president and the only other to follow his father in the White House, didn’t have that opportunity when John Adams, the 2nd president, died a few hours after Thomas Jefferson on July 4, 1826.
In DC, the younger Adams didn’t get news that his father, 90, was at death’s door until two days after his burial.
George W was able to hear his father’s last words via telephone.
‘I called him,’ he recalled on Wednesday. ‘I said, “Dad, I love you. You’ve been a wonderful father”.’
‘And the last words he would ever say on earth were, “I love you too”.’
Bush, whose own tumultuous presidency was measured against his father’s as it unfolded, said historians will be kind to his dad.
TRIBUTES TO A ’20TH CENTURY FOUNDING FATHER’
Jenna Bush Hager read Revelation 21:1-4, 6-7 and 23-25. She placed a loving hand on her grandfather’s casket as she made her way to the pulpit
Lauren Bush Lauren and her sister, Ashley, read Isaiah 60: 1-5, verses 18-20 which reads in part: ‘The Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn’
President Donald Trump attended with his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, and former president Barack Obama at the funeral of America’s 41st president. They were joined by former president Bill Clinton, his wife Hillary and former president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn
Prince Charles was seated near Vice President Mike Pence at the funeral of George H.W. on Wednesday
Charles sat quietly throughout the service next to former Prime Minister John Major. The pair were sat behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other mourners
Former president George W was upbeat as others spoke. He shook hands with Meacham after his kind and touching remarks
George W. and his wife Barbara led the funeral procession. They were followed by his brother Neil Bush with his wife Maria and former Florida governor Jeb Bush with his wife Columba
Barbara Bush (right) arrived with her head up, walking in front of her brother-in-law Henry Chase Hager (center) and her twin sister Jenna (left)
‘They will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States. A diplomat of unmatched skill. A commander in chief of formidable accomplishment,’ he said from the pulpit.
‘He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.’
George W. wove threads through stories of his personal life, his political career and his formative World War II service as the US Navy’s youngest pilot.
Speaking of the elder Bush’s life-long love for Barbara, who died in April, he said that ‘all he really wanted to do was hold mom’s hand again’.
Barbara would remind her children, he said, that their father was the only boy she had ever kissed.
‘He laughed and cried with her. He was dedicated to her totally,’ the younger George said.
Late in life the two would watch police show reruns with ‘the volume on high. All the while holding mom’s hand’.
His eulogy also touched on his father’s devotion to Robin Bush despite losing her so young. He said he prayed to her every day and ‘showed us how setbacks could strengthen’.
But like the other three speakers, George W. included lighter moments that drew laughter through tears.
‘His short game was lousy,’ he said, speaking of golf. ‘He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor.’
Bush was fraught with emotion and was nervous about not being able to get through the day without breaking down. He was comforted by his brother Jeb and Jeb’s wife Columba before they entered the cathedral
George W. was somber as he followed members of the US Air Force Honor Guard into the cathedral
George W. salutes his father’s casket as it arrives the National Cathedral on Wednesday after being driven from the Capitol
Congressional leadership including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and their spouses gathered outside the Capitol to salute the former president’s casket as it was removed following two days of viewing
‘The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli, and by the way, he passed these genetic defects on to us,’ Bush quipped.
The late president’s remains began the weekend in Houston. Family members accompanied the casket to Washington on the plane that typically serves as Air Force One, a gesture from Trump.
A return trip eight miles in the air aboard Special Mission 41 was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon after a slow drive past the White House on the way to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
After a second public viewing in Houston, Texans will say their farewells at an Episcopal service before Bush’s coffin is hoisted aboard a specialized Union Pacific train car – in a Plexiglas-covered compartment – for a 2-1/2 hour trip to the university town of College Station.
A trio of eulogists from outside the Bush clan added color to Wednesday’s service: Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming; Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who also spoke at Ronald Reagan’s funeral; and presidential historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a Bush biography.
Meacham called the senior Bush ‘America’s last great soldier-statesman, a 20th Century founding father’.
‘He stood in the breach in the cold war against totalitarianism. He stood in the breach in Washington against unthinking partisanship,’ Meacham said. ‘He stood in the breach against tyranny and discrimination. On his watch, a wall fell in Berlin.’
Meacham noted, too, Bush’s signature on the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying ‘doors across America opened’ to millions as a result.
Like George Washington, John Adams and Harry Truman, Meacham said, Bush ‘believed in causes larger than themselves.’
Meacham also made George W. laugh.
Recalling the elder Bush campaigning furiously, he said the future president once grasped the hand of a department store mannequin by mistake. ‘He said: “Never know. Gotta ask”,’ Meacham deadpanned.
He quoted Saturday Night Live comedian Dana Carvey explaining his success portraying the then-president, saying it was ‘Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.’
And chuckling along with the memory of ‘a loving man with a big, vibrant, all-enveloping heart,’ Meacham remembered Bush’s self-deprecation at his own malapropisms and awkward turns of phrase: ‘Fluency in English is not something I’m often accused of.’
NBC News reported after the service that Meacham had had the opportunity to read his eulogy to the ailing George H.W. before he died.
After hearing it, Bush said: ‘That’s a lot about me, Jon.’
Mulroney praised Bush, a friend for decades, as a resolute and determined president whom foreign leaders respected.
CROWDS LINE THE STREETS OF DC AND THE COUNTRY COMES TO A STANDSTILL
The flag draped casket bearing George H.W. is removed from the Rotunda by US Air Force Honor Guardsmen on Wednesday ahead of his state funeral
The hearse was driven slowly past the White House on its way to the National Cathedral from the US Capitol
Thousands of people stood in the street to pay tribute to the former president as he was driven past them towards the cathedral
Wednesday was declared a national day of mourning in the former president’s honor. The Bush family told before Wednesday’s service how touched they had been by the public outpouring of support and sympathy
Crowds gathered in DC to pay their respects as the funeral procession made its way past
Crowds gather at the World War II Memorial to pay their respects to the funeral procession as it made its way past
Wednesday was declared a national day of mourning in honor of the former president. The stock market closed and the United States Postal Service ceased operations for the day. Above is the Morgan Stanley building in New York City which went black and shared a message of remembrance
‘Every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader,’ he said.
But he also ‘had a delightful sense of humor and was a lot of fun,’ Mulroney said.
Remembering Bush’s first NATO meeting, he described a lengthy, plodding address by Iceland’s leader.
‘The smaller the country,’ Bush told him later, ‘the longer the speech.’
Retired Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, known as a jokester during his Washington years, had the younger Bush cracking broad grins and laughing.
He told a story that filled in a historical gap from the 1992 campaign, when George H.W. was struggling amid low poll numbers and trying to save his hopes of a second term.
‘Remember Lincoln, going to his knees in times of trial and the Civil War and all that stuff?’ he asked a group of insurance workers in Dover, New Hampshire.
‘You can’t be. And we’re blessed. So don’t feel sorry for – don’t cry for me, Argentina!’
‘The press then wrote that he was finally losing his marbles,’ Simpson recalled, talking about bush’s sudden lapse into an Andrew Lloyd Webber lyric.
The mourners placed their hands over their hearts and held up signs as the motorcade drove past them
Mourners line the route of former president George H.W.’s funeral procession on Wednesday
In a stolen moment of relative privacy on Wednesday, president George W. shut his eyes as he followed his father’s casket to the National Cathedral
But he and Bush and their wives, he said, had attended a concert of Webber hits two nights earlier, and sang the ‘Evita’ tune all the way back to 1600 Avenue.
The ceremony drew both a who’s-who list of global envoys and a handyman from the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan, Britain’s Prince Charles, Prince Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Polish President Andrzej Duda all made the trip.
Rubbing shoulders with the dignitaries was Mike Lovejoy, the electrician and fix-it man who has worked at the family’s summer estate since 1990 and says he was shocked and heartened to be asked to come.
Wednesday’s public gaze that didn’t fall on the Bushes landed on Trump and his other predecessors, lined up in the same pew.
They alternatively grinned and closed their eyes in reflection of history’s latest improbable but indispensable moment.
TRUMP, OBAMA, CLINTON AND CARTER UNITED BY GRIEF
President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton with their wives, and Jimmy Carter with his wife Rosalynn
The presidents and first ladies bowed heir heads in prayer. The Trumps spoke only to the Obamas after taking their seats last
The congregation was entertained by Senator Alan Simpson who gave a heartfelt and amusing story about the year he worked with George H.W.
Laura and George Bush received the Trumps warmly. They have been their guests at Blair House, the White House guest house, since Monday. On Tuesday, Laura was given a private showing of the White House Christmas decorations. George W. welcomes Bill and Hillary Clinton (right) then Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter
President Trump gave a thumbs up as the funeral procession made its way past the front row and out of the cathedral
Before taking his seat in the first row, former president George W. greeted former presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and their wives and President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. George W. is pictured slipping Mrs Obama a piece of candy – just as he did at John McCain’s funeral earlier this year
Former president Barack Obama greets President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump
Former vice president Al Gore greets former president Bill Clinton (left) as former first lady and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton greets former vice president Joe Biden (right)
Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama embrace as they prepare to take their seats inside the National Cathedral before the Trumps’ arrival
The Clintons and the Obamas greeted one another warmly before taking their seats in the cathedral
Former first lady Michelle Obama waves hello to a fellow mourner as her husband speaks with Chelsea Clinton
The Clintons are pictured leaving the funeral with their daughter Chelsea
Former president Jimmy Carter leaves the cathedral with his wife Rosalynn. Carter, 94, was the 39th president
Bill Clinton owed many of his successes to Bush’s groundwork, including a NATO expansion, Middle East peace talks and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which historians view as an impossibility without Bush’s optimistic cajoling in prior years.
Trump now views all three as failures of leadership, seeing weakness where modern Democrats see calculated restraint and humility.
Obama generally admired Bush as more Democratic than Republican, especially for his widely panned willingness to raise taxes and what he called a ‘Hippocratic’ approach to foreign policy. Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 2011.
But America’s first black president privately groused in his White House about Bush’s appointment of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative African-American whom he believed undermined civil rights.
George H.W. is the only former president Jimmy Carter hasn’t swiped at during his post-presidency.
Even Obama drew his ire for ordering drone strikes against Middle Eastern terrorists, and for failing to shutter the Guantanamo Bay military prison camp.
He lionized Bush on Saturday for his ‘grace, civility, and social conscience’.
CLINTONS IGNORE TRUMPS AS THEY TAKE THEIR SEATS
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump being led to their seats in the front row of the National Cathedral, walking past their predecessors. Hillary Clinton kept her gaze forward and spoke to neither of them throughout the service
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump took their seats quietly. They were the only other members of the Trump family to attend
Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump, who were once friends before the 2016 presidential election, spoke civilly at the service
Jordan’s King Abdullah II (center) and Queen Rania greet Prince Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was wheeled into the ceremony quietly
President Bush’s national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and his secretary of state Kissinger were reunited at the service
Former US Secretary of State James Baker arrives at the funeral of George H.W. on Wednesday. Baker, who was one of George H.W.’s closest friends and who spent some of his final days with him, sobbed throughout the service
Former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft leaves the service on Wednesday
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pictured at the funeral of George H.W. on Wednesday
Former Vice President Joe Biden arrives with his wife Jill (left). Bill Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore is pictured arriving (right)
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (left) and former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning (right) arrive at the funeral
Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell (center) and his wife Alma (right) were pictured arriving with former Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady (left)
Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives at the National Cathedral on Wednesday morning (left). Former Vice President Dick Cheney is pictured inside (right)
Political strategist and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is pictured arriving at the funeral
US Senator Dianne Feinstein (left) and Journalist Tom Brokow (right) arrive for the service
THE FULL ORDER OF SERVICE
The 24-page order of service is shown above in full
GEORGE W. BUSH’S ENTIRE EULOGY FOR HIS FATHER:
Distinguished guests, including our Presidents and First Ladies, government officials, foreign dignitaries, and friends; Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I and our families thank you all for being here.
I once heard it said of man that the idea is to die young as late as possible. At age 85, a favorite pastime of George H.W. Bush was firing up his boat, the Fidelity, and opening up the three 300 horsepower engines to fly, joyfully fly across the Atlantic with the Secret Service boats straining to keep up.
At age 90, George H.W. Bush parachuted out of an aircraft and landed on the grounds of St. Anne’s by the Sea in Kennebunkport, Maine, the church where his mom was married and where he worshipped often. Mother liked to say he chose the location just in case the chute didn’t open.
In his 90s, he took great delight when his closest pal, James A. Baker, smuggled a bottle of Grey Goose vodka into his hospital room. Apparently it paired well with the steak Baker had delivered from Morton’s.
To his very last days, dad’s life was instructive. As he aged he taught us how to grow with dignity, humor and kindness. When the good lord finally called, how to meet him with courage and with the joy of the promise of what lies ahead.
One reason dad knew how to die young is that he almost did it, twice. When he was a teenager, a staph infection nearly took his life. A few years later he was alone in the Pacific on a life raft, praying that his rescuers would find him before the enemy did. God answered those prayers. It turned out he had other plans for George H.W. Bush.
For dad’s part, I think those brushes with death made him cherish the gift of life, and he vowed to live every day to the fullest.
Dad was always busy, a man in constant motion, but never too busy to share his love of life with those around him. He taught us to love the outdoors. He loved watching dogs flush a covey. He loved landing the illusive striper. And once confined to a wheelchair, he seemed happiest sitting in his favorite perch on the back porch at Walker’s Point contemplating the majesty of the Atlantic.
The horizons he saw were bright and hopeful. He was a genuinely optimistic man, and that optimism guided his children and made each of us believe that anything was possible. He continually broadened his horizons with daring decisions.
He was a patriot. After high school he put college on hold and became a navy fighter pilot as World War II broke out.
Like many of his generation, he never talked about his service until his time as a public figure forced his hand. We learned of the attack, the mission completed, the shootdown. We learned of the death of his crewmates whom he thought about throughout his entire life. And we learned of the rescue.
And then another audacious decision; he moved his young family from the comforts of the East coast to Odessa, Texas. He and Mom adjusted to their arid surroundings quickly. he was a tolerant man. after all, he was kind and neighborly to the women with whom he, Mom and I shared a bathroom in our small duplex. Even after he learned their profession, ladies of the night.
Dad could relate to people from all walks of life. He was an empathetic man. He valued character over pedigree, and he was no cynic. He looked for the good in each person and he usually found it.
Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary, that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values like faith and family. He strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and country in which one lived. He recognized that serving others enriched the giver’s soul. To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.
When he lost, he shouldered the blame. He accepted that failure is a part of living a full life. but taught us never to be defined by failure. He showed us how setbacks can strengthen.
None of his disappointments could compare with one of life’s greatest tragedies, the loss of a young child.
Jeb and I were too young to remember the pain and agony he and Mom felt when our 3-year-old sister died. We only learned later that Dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily. He was sustained by the love of the Almighty and the real and enduring love of her Mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.
He loved to laugh, especially at himself. He could tease and needle but never out of malice. He placed great value on a good joke. That’s why he chose Simpson to speak.
On e-mail he had a circle of friends with whom he shared or received the latest jokes. His grading system for the quality of the joke was classic George Bush. The rare 7s and 8s were considered huge winners, most of them off-color.
George Bush knew how to be a true and loyal friend. He nurtured and honored his many friendships with a generous and giving soul. There exists thousands of handwritten notes encouraging or sympathizing or thanking his friends and acquaintances.
He had an enormous capacity to give of himself. Many a person would tell you that Dad became a mentor and a father figure in their life. He listened and he consoled. He was their friend. I think of Don Rhodes, Taylor Blanton, Jim Nantz, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and perhaps the unlikeliest of all, the man who defeated him, Bill Clinton. My siblings and I refer to the guys in this group as brothers from other mothers.
He taught us that a day was not meant to be wasted. He played golf at a legendary pace. I always wonder why he insisted on speed golf; he’s a good golfer. Here’s my conclusion. He played fast so he could move on to the next event, to enjoy the rest of the day, to expend his enormous energy, to live it all. He was born with just two settings, full throttle, then sleep.
He taught us what it means to be a wonderful father, grandfather and great grandfather. He was firm in his principles and supportive as we began to seek our own ways. He encouraged and comforted but never steered. We tested his patience. I know I did. But he always responded with the great gift of unconditional love.
Last Friday when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him. The guy answered the phone, said ‘I think he can hear you but he hasn’t said anything for most of the day.’ I said, ‘Dad, I love you and you’ve been a wonderful father,’ and the last words he would ever say on Earth were, ‘I love you too.’
To us he was close to perfect but not totally. His short game was lousy. He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor. The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli. And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us.
Finally, every day of his 73 years of marriage, Dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband. He married his sweetheart. He adored her. He laughed and cried with her. He was dedicated to her totally.
In his old age dad enjoyed watching police show reruns, the volume on high, all the while holding Mom’s hand. After Mom died, Dad was strong, but all he really wanted to do was hold Mom’s hand again.
Of course Dad taught me another special lesson. He showed me what it means to be a President who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.
When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great President of the United States, a diplomat of unmatched skill, a Commander in Chief of formidable accomplishment, and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor.
In his inaugural address the 41st President of the United States he said this: ‘We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account, we must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it. What do we want the men and women who work with us to say? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?’
Well, Dad, we’re going to remember you for exactly that and much more, and we’re going to miss you. Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever. So through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man. The best father a son or daughter could have. And in our grief, let us smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.