Admirers remember George H.W. Bush as statesman and gentleman

AP News Staff
December 02, 2018 - 8:23 pm

© Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

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HOUSTON (AP) — George H.W. Bush played many prominent public roles in nearly a century of life, from when he was a 20-year-old World War II hero to the 41st president of the United States. In between came turns as a congressman, the director of the CIA, an ambassador to the United Nations and China, and a two-term vice president.

Yet colleagues and friends say the great-grandfather was humble, modest and unfailingly polite.

"As much grief as he got from the media and from people who weren't crazy about him, he never really held grudges and he was never really rancorous about it," said Annie Presley, a local woman who worked for the Bushes as a fund-raiser and volunteer. "He was very thoughtful about why people did and said what they did."

Bush, who died late Friday at his Houston home at age 94, would see his popularity as president soar after he assembled a U.S.-led military coalition that liberated the oil-rich nation of Kuwait from its invading neighbor Iraq in 1991 during the Gulf War. But just a year later, a deepening economic crisis at home would drive him from office when he lost his bid for re-election.

Still, the Republican would reinvent himself yet again by becoming an elder statesman admired by members of both major political parties. Bush, who died just eight months after the death of his wife of seven decades, Barbara, also saw his son George W. Bush twice elected as the nation’s 43rd president.

Bush and his son, George W. Bush, have been famously magnanimous with their successors, even when their former political enemies are harshly critical of them. The Bushes have been friendly with the Clintons and the Obamas for years.  

"He was never a person who was going to say anyting impolite about those who followed him," Presley said. "I think he was glad he did what he did and he was glad to have his time on his own."

“George H. W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for,” the younger Bush said in a statement Friday. “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.”

A story that has been making the rounds over the past few days is about the time when Bush 41 was preparing to leave the White House after the electoral defeat of 1992. He could not bring himself to address the staff, so he hired Dana Carvey, famous for lampooning him on Saturday Night Live, to deliver the goodbye for him, and to liven up the somber mood with some laughs.

"I think that what hurt George and Barbara Bush the most was that they had to say goodbye to all the staffers at the White House who had given their time and talent," Presley said.

Bush and Carvey remained friends to the end.

Air Force One was being sent to Texas to transport Bush’s casket to Washington, where his body will lay in state at the Capitol Rotunda after an arrival ceremony Monday. The public is invited and can pay their respects from Monday evening through Wednesday morning. The family is still arranging funeral services, but the White House said President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump plan to attend.

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