When he died late Friday at the age of 94, George H.W. Bush had become the longest-lived former president. For a man who served only one term, his legacy has loomed large over history.
He oversaw the first Iraq war. He was there when the Berlin Wall came down. He dealt with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the communist bloc — and all of the attendant messiness that ensued.
Bush’s four years in the White House also marked the end of an era. He was the last president to have served in World War II, having been shot down in the Pacific and rescued by a submarine. He was the last president whose administration wasn’t chronicled in any depth on the internet. He was the last president in recent memory where the call for impeachment, whether justified or reflexive, wasn’t heard from the opposition.
He was also the presidency’s last significant tie to the Reagan administration, for which he served as vice president for both terms. He was a presidential candidate in his own right in 1980 and had previously served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, an envoy to China, head of the Republican National Committee, an ambassador to the United Nations and a congressman.
And yet, even though he left office 25 years ago this past January, his presence still loomed large — in part due to the humanitarian work he did with Bill Clinton, the man who defeated him. That’s why, when the flash came from the Bush family that he’d died — even at the age of 94 — one couldn’t help but feel that it was still too soon, even though the era in which he was president feels so distant.
“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear dad has died,” a statement from former President George W. Bush, released through the George H.W. Bush Presidential Center, read.
“George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for. The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41’s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”
— George W. Bush Presidential Center (@TheBushCenter) December 1, 2018
George H.W. Bush lost his wife, Barbara, earlier this year, and his health had reportedly been on the decline. “His family has said publicly that the former president was no longer able to walk unassisted, a frustration for a man who enjoyed an active lifestyle of golf, fishing, jogging and power walks on the beach near his summer home in Maine,” ABC News had reported.
Politicians and celebrities — expected and unexpected — mourned the former president on Twitter.
President George H.W. Bush was an American hero, a patriot and a wise and generous man. May he Rest In Peace.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 1, 2018
We have lost a great American. Service defined President George H.W. Bush’s life, and he taught all of us about leadership, sacrifice and decency. We send our deepest sympathies to the Bush family.
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) December 1, 2018
Tonight America lost a statesman. 41 will go down in history as a committed public servant. My prayers are with the entire Bush family tonight and in the days to come. (1/2)
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) December 1, 2018
May the peace that passes all understanding guard their hearts and may His comfort cover our nation as we mourn President George HW Bush. (2/2)
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) December 1, 2018
My prayers are with the family and friends of President George H.W. Bush. He was an honorable public servant and history will remember him well. May he rest in peace. https://t.co/LLhwPUwKqg
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) December 1, 2018
I will never forget George H.W. Bush and President Clinton meeting me in my old hometown of New Orleans to show support and raise money after Hurricane Katrina. I send my love to his family tonight.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) December 1, 2018
From Argentina, where he’s participating in the G20 summit, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump released a statement paying their respects to the former president.
“Melania and I join with a grieving Nation to mourn the loss of former President George H.W. Bush, who passed away last night,” Trump said in a statement early Saturday morning.
Statement from President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on the Passing of Former President George H.W. Bush pic.twitter.com/qxPsp4Ggs7
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 1, 2018
“Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service — to be, in his words, ‘a thousand points of light’ illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world.
“President Bush always found a way to set the bar higher. As a young man, he captained the Yale baseball team, and then went on to serve as the youngest aviator in the United States Navy during the Second World War. Later in life, he rose to the pinnacle of American politics as a Congressman from Texas, envoy to China, Director of Central Intelligence, Vice President of eight years to President Ronald Reagan, and finally President of the United States.
“With sound judgement, common sense, and unflappable leadership, President Bush guided our Nation, and the world, to a peaceful and victorious conclusion of the Cold War,” the statement continued.
“As President, he set the stage for the decades of prosperity that have followed. And through all that he accomplished, he remained humble, following the quiet call to service that gave him a clear sense of direction.
“Along with his full life of service to country, we will remember President Bush for his devotion to family — especially the love of his life, Barbara. His example lives on, and will continue to stir future Americans to pursue a greater cause. Our hearts ache with his loss, and we, with the American people, send our prayers to the entire Bush family, as we honor the life and legacy of 41.”
Former President Barack Obama also issued a statement via Twitter.
America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush. While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Our thoughts are with the entire Bush family tonight – and all who were inspired by George and Barbara’s example. pic.twitter.com/g9OUPu2pjY
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 1, 2018
“America lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush,” Obama said. “While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Not merely for the years he spent as our forty-first President, but for the more than 70 years he spent in devoted service to the country he loved — from a decorated Naval aviator who nearly gave his life in World War II, to Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces, with plenty of posts along the way. …
“George H.W. Bush’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey.”
Perhaps the simplest summation of his life, however, came from the former president’s own office.
“George Herbert Walker Bush, World War II naval aviator, Texas oil pioneer, and 41st President of the United States of America, died on November 30, 2018. He was 94 and is survived by his five children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren, eight great grandchildren, and two siblings,” the statement read. “He was preceded in death by his wife of 73 years, Barbara; his second child Pauline ‘Robin’ Bush; and his brothers Prescott and William or ‘Bucky’ Bush.”
That says it all, and yet says so little about how important it all really was. Given the kind of man George H.W. Bush was, you could tell he would have wanted it that way.
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