Honouring US Pres.(41) George H. Bush
“Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.” – Former US President George W. Bush.
“The best ships are friendships, and may they always be.” – Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
George Herbert Walker Bush died last Friday. He was an American who served as the 41st President of the United States from 1989 to 1993. Prior to assuming the US presidency, Mr. Bush served as the 43rd Vice President of the United States from 1981 to 1989. In all that time he was a good friend of all Canadians as former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney will tell you.
If this historical note seems like some Canadians’ rebuke of current US President Donald Trump, who is no friend of Canada, that may not be news but this, like the death of a great friend, is reality too.
Editor and Staff of Feminine Perspective Magazine
“The best ships are friendships, & may they always be”
– Brian Mulroney as-delivered Eulogy from Canada for friend, George H. Bush
You remember where you were the summer you left your teenager years behinda and turned 20. Well, I was working as a labourer in my hometown in northern Quebec, trying to make enough money to get back into law school. It was a tough job, but I was safe and secure and had the added benefit of my mother’s home cooking every night.
On Sept. 2, 1944, as we have just heard so eloquently from John, 20-year-old Lieutenant George Bush was preparing to attack Japanese war installations in the Pacific. He was part of a courageous generation of young Americans who led the charge against overwhelming odds in the historic and bloody battle for supremacy in the Pacific against the colossal military might of Imperial Japan. That’s what George Bush did the summer he turned 20.
Many men of differing talents and skills have served as president, and many more will do so as the decades unfold, bringing new strength and glory to these United States of America. And 50 or 100 years from now, as historians review the accomplishments and the context of all who have served as president, I believe it will be said that in the life of this country, the United States, which is in my judgment the greatest democratic republic that God has ever placed on the face of this Earth, I believe it will be said that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honourable than George Herbert Walker Bush.
George Bush was a man of high accomplishment, but he also had a delightful sense of humour, and was a lot of fun. At his first NATO meeting in Brussels, as the new American president—he sat opposite me actually, that day—George was taking copious notes as the heads of government spoke. We were all limited in time. But you know, it’s very flattering to have the president of the United States take notes as you speak. Even someone as modest as me. Threw in a few more adjectives here and there, to extend the pleasure of the experience.
After President Mitterrand, Prime Minister Thatcher, and Chancellor Kohl had spoken, it was the turn of the prime minister of Iceland who, as President Bush continued to write, went on and on and on and on—ending only when the secretary-general of NATO firmly decreed a coffee break. George put down his pen, walked over to me and said, “Brian, I’ve just learned the fundamental principle of international affairs.” I said, “What’s that, George?” He said, “The smaller the country, the longer the speech.”
In the second year of the Bush presidency, responding to implacable pressures from the Reagan and Bush administrations, the Soviet Union imploded. This was, in my judgment, the most epochal event, political event, of the 20th century. An ominous situation that could’ve become extremely menacing to world security was instead deftly challenged by the leadership of President Bush in broad and powerful currents of freedom, providing the Russian people with the opportunity to build an embryonic democracy in a country that had been ruled by czars and tyrants for over a thousand years.
And then, as the Berlin Wall collapsed soon thereafter and calls for freedom cascaded across central and eastern Europe, leaving dictators and dogma in the trash can of history, no challenge—no challenge—assumed greater importance for western solidarity than the unification of Germany within an unswerving NATO. But old fears in western Europe and unrelenting hostility by the military establishment in the Soviet Union—and the Warsaw Pact—rendered this initiative among the most complex and sensitive ever undertaken. One serious misstep and this entire process could have been compromised, perhaps irretrievably. There’s obviously no more knowledgeable a competent judge of what really happened at this most vital juncture of the 20th century than Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany. In a speech to a parliamentary commission of the Bundestag, Chancellor Kohl said categorically that this historic initiative of German reunification could never ever have succeeded without the brilliant leadership of President Bush.
Much has been written about the first Gulf War. Simply put, the coalition of 29 disparate nations assembled under the aegis of the United Nations—including, for the first time, many influential Arab countries, and led by the United States—will rank with the most spectacular and successful international initiatives ever undertaken in modern history. Designed to punish an aggressor, defend the cause of freedom and ensure order in a region that had seen too much of the opposite for far too long, this was President Bush’s initiative from beginning to end.
President Bush was also responsible for the North American Free Trade Agreement, recently modernized and improved by new administrations, which created the largest and richest free-trade area in the history of the world; while also signing into the Americans with Disabilities Act, which transformed the lives of millions and millions of Americans forever.
President Bush’s decision to go forward with strong environmental legislation, including the Clean Air Act that resulted in the acid rain accord with Canada, is a splendid gift to future generations of Americans and Canadians, to savour in the air they breathe and the water they drink; in the forests they enjoy and the lakes, rivers and streams they cherish.
There’s a word for this: it’s called leadership. Leadership.
And let me tell you that when George Bush was president of the United States of America, every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman. A genuine leader. One who was distinguished, resolute and brave.
I don’t keep a diary, but occasionally I write private notes after important personal or professional events. One occurred at Walkers Point at Kennebunkport, Maine, on September 2nd, 2001. We’d been spending our traditional Labour Day weekend with George and Barbara, and towards the end, he and I had a long, private conversation. My notes, capture the moment.
I told George how I thought his mood had shifted over the last eight years. From a series of frustrations and moments of despondency in 1993, to the high enthusiasm I felt at the Houston launch of the Presidential Library, to George W.’s election as governor that year, to the delight following Jeb’s election in 1998, followed by their great pride and pleasure with George W.’s election to presidency. And perhaps most importantly, to the serenity we found today in both Barbara and George. They are truly at peace with themselves, joyous in what they and the children have achieved, gratified by the goodness that God has bestowed upon them all, and genuinely content with the thrill and promise of each passing day.
And at that, George, who had tears in his eyes as I spoke, said, “You know Brian, you’ve got us pegged just right, and the rollercoaster of emotions we’ve experience since 1992. Come with me.”
And he led me down the porch at Walkers Point to the side of the house that fronts the ocean, and pointed to a small, simple plaque that had been unobtrusively installed just some days earlier. It read: “C.A.V.U.”
George said, “Brian, this stands for ‘ceiling and visibility unlimited.’ When I was a terrified 18-to-19-year-old pilot in the Pacific, those were the words we hoped to hear before takeoff. It meant perfect flying, and that’s the way I feel about our life today—C.A.V.U. Everything is perfect. Barbara and I could not have asked for better lives. We are truly happy, and truly at peace.”
As I looked over the waters at Walkers Point on that cold September afternoon in Maine, I was reminded the line, simple and true, that speak to the real nature of George Bush and his love of his wonderful family and precious surroundings: There are wooden ships, there are sailing ships, there are ships that sail the sea/ But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.
Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.
Office of George W. Bush
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.” (Laughter.)
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 Secret Service boats straining to keep up.
At 90, George H. W. Bush parachuted out of an aircraft and landed on the grounds of St. Ann’s by the Sea in Kennebunkport, Maine – the church where his mom was married and where he’d worshipped often. Mother liked to say he chose the location just in case the chute didn’t open. (Laughter.)
In his 90′s, 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. (Laughter.)
To his very last days, Dad’s life was instructive. As he aged, he taught us how to grow old with dignity, humor, and kindness – and, when the Good Lord finally called, how to meet Him with courage and with joy in 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 elusive 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 on Chichi Jima, the mission completed, the shoot-down. We learned of the death of his crewmates, whom he thought about throughout his entire life. And we learned of his 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. (Laughter.)
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 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.
In victory, he shared credit. When he lost, he shouldered the blame. He accepted that failure is 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 three-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 our 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. (Laughter.) On email, 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. (Laughter.)
George Bush knew how to be a true and loyal friend. He honored and nurtured his many friendships with his generous and giving soul. There exist 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.” (Laughter.)
He taught us that a day was not meant to be wasted. He played golf at a legendary pace. I always wondered why he insisted on speed golf. He was a good golfer.
Well, here’s my conclusion: he played fast so that 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. (Laughter)
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 (laughter) – 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 who answered the phone said, “I think he can hear you, but hasn’t say anything 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 perfect. His short game was lousy. (Laughter.) He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor. (Laughter.) The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli. (Laughter.) And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us. (Laughter.)
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, volume on high (laughter), all the while holding mom’s hand. After mom died, Dad was strong, but all he really wanted to do was to 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 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 when we are no longer there? 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 remember you for exactly that and so 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 see the blessings of knowing and loving you – a great and noble man, and 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.