Remembering George H.W Bush

The 41st President of the United States, George H.W Bush passed away this week. Courtesy of Catholic University Archives

By Alex Santana

The United States lost a member of the greatest generation, its 41st President, and a man respected by many on both sides of the political aisle for his character and integrity on November 30, 2018.

President George Herbert Walker Bush passed away at the age of 94 in his home in Houston, Texas. He was surrounded by his son Neil and daughter-in-law Maria, grandchildren Pierce and Marshall Bush, longtime friend James A. Baker, III and his wife Susan, chief of staff Jean Becker, the Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson Jr of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, two doctors, and several caretakers.

Bush’s last words were to his first born son and the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, who called his father from his home in Dallas. The 43rd President told his dying father how he was a “wonderful dad” and the 41st President replied “I love you, too.” The former President died at 10:10 p.m.., after having suffered from a form of Parkinson’s disease for several years. Baker said Bush “had a very gentle and easy passing, the kind we ought to all hope we have.”

George H.W. Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, the second child of five children of U.S. Senator Prescott Bush and Dorothy Walker. He was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut and attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and Yale University.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday and became one of the youngest naval aviators. He flew 58 combat missions during World War II and was shot down in September 1944 but rescued by the USS Finback. Bush met his future wife, Barbara Pierce, at a Christmas dance in 1941 at the Round Hill Country Club in Greenwich and became engaged 18 months later.

While Bush was serving in the war, he wrote a now famous letter displaying his love for his future wife and First Lady of the United States. The letter reads “I love you, precious, with all my heart and to know that you love me means my life. How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours someday. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you.” Bush and Pierce married on January 6, 1945 in Rye, New York when he was 20 and she was 19. They would go on to be married for 73 years, the longest-married couple in U.S. presidential history, until her death in April 2018.

As the constant companion and confidant of her husband for over 70 years, Mrs. Bush witnessed him hold several important positions in American government including President from 1989-1993, Vice President to Ronald Reagan from 1981-1989, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under Gerald R. Ford, U.S. Ambassador to China under Ford, Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) under Richard Nixon, and U.S. Representative from Texas from 1967-1971 representing Houston.

Bush ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1980 and lost to Ronald Reagan, then the popular and charismatic former Governor of California. Instead of choosing former President Gerald Ford as his running mate which was what many believed Reagan was going to do, Reagan chose Bush. The two went on to defeat Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale.

As Vice President, Bush served as a loyal advisor and defender of Reagan and his conservative economic and national security agenda. He also represented the United States at funerals of world leaders, in the process meeting the future leaders of the countries he would have to deal with as President. Reagan and Bush were re-elected in the 1984 election as they defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale and New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro. Reagan and Bush successfully carried 49 states while Mondale and Ferraro carried Mondale’s native state of Minnesota as well as District of Columbia.

In the 1988 Presidential Election, Bush ran with Indiana U.S. Senator Dan Quayle and together they carried 40 states versus Democratic Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and Texas U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen who carried 10 states and the District of Columbia.

In the realm of foreign affairs, Bush led the U.S. to victory in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, known as Operation Desert Storm, which forced Iraqi forces led by dictator Saddam Hussein out of neighboring Kuwait which Hussein had invaded in August 1990. Bush also presided over the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bush led the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama which overthrew the dictatorship of Manuel Noriega, a drug trafficker and money launderer, and reinstituted democracy. Bush also initiated the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in December 1992 along with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada and President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico.

In domestic policy, Bush is remembered for signing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Clean Air Act, Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the Immigration Act of 1990. Bush named two men to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice David Souter in 1990, and Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991. Souter retired in 2009 and Thomas continues to serve on the Court where he is one of the most conservative members.

Bush ran for a second term in the 1992 presidential election but lost to 46-year-old Democratic Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire, ran a 3rd party campaign as an independent, gaining over 19 million votes but winning no states. Clinton won 32 states and the District of Columbia versus Bush and Quayle’s 18 states.

In his retirement, Bush witnessed the opening of his presidential library in College Station, TX in 1997 and the establishment of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Bush saw his second oldest son, John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, be elected the 43rd Governor of Florida in 1998 and win re-election in 2002, becoming the first Republican Governor to win re-election in state history. On January 20, 2001, Bush saw his first born son, George W. Bush, inaugurated as the 43rd President of the United States, the second time a father and son have been president since John Adams’ son John Quincy Adams was elected President in 1824. In 2011 President Barack Obama awarded Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. After leaving the presidency Bush and his wife Barbara lived in Texas and continued to spend their summers in Kennebunkport, Maine at Walker’s Point, the home belonging to the family of Bush’s mother, the Walkers. When natural disasters occurred such as the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Irma in the U.S., Bush worked with former presidents, including the man that prevented him from serving a second term, President Bill Clinton, to raise funds for rebuilding and supplies for those in need.

Dr. Phillip G. Henderson, an Associate Professor of Politics at Catholic University, had many thoughts about Bush and his service to the nation. “George Herbert Walker Bush was a statesman in the truest sense of the word”, he said. “What Americans seem to remember most about him, though, is not the breadth of his experience and leadership, but his warmth and dignity as a person. He was a man of considerable grace and goodwill, and for that the nation is indebted to him for his unflinching devotion and service.”

Maureen Dowd, a graduate of Catholic University and former New York Times White House reporter had fond memories of reporting on Bush. On December 2nd she wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times where she recounted a note he had written her saying “I reserve the right to whine, to not read, to use profanity, but if you ever get really hurt or if you ever get really down and need a shoulder to cry on or just need a friend — give me a call. I’ll be there for you. I’ll not let you down.”

She also recounted how when her mother died in 2005 at the age of 97, Bush sent her an email saying “It hurts to lose a parent. It hurts an awful lot. When my own Mom died I went up to Greenwich to check on her. She was close to death and her breathing was so labored that I literally prayed to God, as I knelt right there by her bed, that she would go on to heaven. She was prepared to do just that.” He continued “I hope your own Mom had a peaceful passing; and that she felt joyous about going on to heaven.”

President Bush had his own connection to Catholic University. He appeared along with his wife Barbara at a 1989 Cardinals Dinner which is a scholarship dinner for Catholic University students.

From December 3rd to December 5th Bush laid in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda where thousands of Americans came to honor the longest lived president. Speeches were given by Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). President Donald Trump did not attend Monday’s ceremony but he and First Lady Melania Trump visited the casket Monday night where President Trump saluted. A remarkable sight was the visit of 95-year-old former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas.

Owen Crowley, a senior history major, stated that “George H.W. Bush was a leader who I admire for doing what was morally right and not politically convenient.”

The World War II veteran and 1996 Republican presidential nominee stood from his wheelchair with the help of an aide and saluted the former Commander-in-Chief. A state funeral service as held on Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral where both Trumps, former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter and former First Ladies Michelle Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Rosalyn Carter attended as well as current and former members of Congress, the President’s Cabinet, foreign dignitaries including Prince Charles of the United Kingdom and King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Chancellor Angela Merkel, of Germany, and family and friends of President Bush. The four men who gave eulogies were President George W. Bush, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Wyoming U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, and presidential historian and Bush family friend Jon Meacham. In his eulogy, President Bush said the 41st President was “The best father a son or daughter can have. And in our grief, let us smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again.”

Another funeral service will be held on Thursday at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston where the eulogists will be George W. Bush, James A. Baker III, and George P. Bush, Texas’ Land Commissioner and son of Jeb Bush. Baker was Bush’s 1980 presidential campaign manager and went on to serve as, among other things, President Ronald Reagan’s White House Chief of Staff from 1981-1985 and President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State from 1989-1992 as well as Bush’s White House Chief of Staff from 1992-1993.

After the funeral service in Houston Bush will be taken by a train named “Bush 4141” to College Station where he will be buried at his library beside his late wife Barbara and daughter Robin. Robin passed away at the age of 3 in 1953 of leukemia and President and Mrs. Bush did not have another daughter until 1959 when Doro was born. Bush is the latest President to be carried by train to his resting place since Dwight D. Eisenhower who traveled from Washington, D.C. to Abilene, Kansas when he passed away in 1969.

A man who enjoyed humor, playing baseball in his youth, fishing, skydiving, playing golf and riding in his speedboat in his later years, many will argue President Bush’s greatest passion was his family. He is survived by five of his six children, seventeen grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren and they will continue his legacy of service to the nation he loved so much. President George H.W. Bush will be remembered for his heroism during World War II, decades of public service at the highest levels of American government, and for leading the United States through the end of the Cold War.

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