Dying Words: When Bush 41 and Bush 43 Said Goodbye, It was the Stuff of Legends
President George H.W. Bush died Friday at the age of 94, just seven months after the death of his lifelong love and wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, who’d passed away in April at the age of 92.
Politico reported that Bush’s final day was spent as comfortably as possible at his home in Houston, where he was visited by friends and had a chance to speak by phone one last time with all of his children.
James A. Baker, who served as chief of staff and secretary of state during the 41st president’s administration, was one of those close friends who was present with Bush during his final day. He recalled Friday being a “sweet day,” one that was “gentle and peaceful” and remarkable in that Bush had kept his good spirits and sense of humor even until his last moments.
Speaking during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Baker recounted part of the final conversation held Friday between Bush and one of his sons, former President George W. Bush.
The younger former president said, “Dad, I love you and I will see you on the other side,” to which the elder former president had simply replied, “I love you.”
There’s a quiet dignity in that exchange, a tacit, courageous understanding that should stir the admiration of even the Bush family’s staunches political opponents.
“He had a very gentle and peaceful passing,” Baker said. “It was a sweet situation.”
Baker and Bush had a friendship that dated back decades. Both men had worked well together during the Reagan administration, as well as during Bush’s one term in office, which spanned from 1989 to 1993.
Baker described his friend as “an extraordinarily consequential president of the United States, particularly in the arena of foreign affairs.”
During an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press, ” Baker said that Bush “will be remembered as our most successful one-term president.” He added, “And perhaps the most successful, one of the most successful presidents of all time.”
Baker said the manner in which the Cold War had ended under Bush’s guidance — “it ended with a whimper and not with a bang.” — could only be described as “really incredible.”
The close friend and chief aide to the former president also pointed to the reunification of Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as the broad international coalition Bush brought together to liberate Kuwait from the aggressive occupation by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, as other major accomplishments of Bush’s term in office.
Baker also mentioned, “Ending the wars in Central America, which had been the holy grail of both the left and the right, and there’s so many others. So he’ll be well remembered by history. And well treated by history.”
He also revealed that Bush had told him he “wasn’t ready to go” just yet following his wife’s death earlier this year. Unfortunately, his time to pass came regardless, and Baker said of his dear friend, “I’m going to miss him. What a beautiful, beautiful human being. A friend of 60 years.”
The casket carrying the body of the former president was transported from Houston to Washington on Monday via Air Force One. Bush will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda until a state funeral service is held in his honor on Wednesday at the National Cathedral.
Following that service, Bush will be transported back to Texas for another memorial service prior to being buried at his presidential library in College Station at Texas A&M University, where his late wife and a young daughter who died in 1953 are buried.
The former president will indeed be missed, not just by his family and friends, but by a substantial portion of Americans who recall his grace and dignity and leadership. Those qualities and then some were exhibited by his final words on his final day as he said goodbye to his loving and beloved children.
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