A great pres­i­dent, the best dad: adieu



Pres­i­dents rarely cry at state funer­als but Ge­orge W. Bush was not just say­ing farewell to a fel­low pres­i­dent yes­ter­day, he was also say­ing good­bye to his dad.

So when Amer­ica’s 43rd pres­i­dent came to the fi­nal lines of his mov­ing eu­logy for the 41st, Ge­orge HW Bush, the son could no longer hold his feel­ings back.

The tears came when Mr Bush paid his fi­nal pub­lic ho­mage to his fa­ther, who died last week aged 94, de­scrib­ing him as not only a great pres­i­dent but also as the best fa­ther a child could have.

Speak­ing in Wash­ing­ton’s Na­tional Cathe­dral at the first state funeral for a pres­i­dent since Ger­ald Ford’s in 2006, Mr Bush said he knew his fa­ther was now hug­ging his late daugh­ter Robin and beloved wife Bar­bara in heaven. Robin died aged three and Bar­bara, his wife of 73 years, in April.

“Your de­cency, sin­cer­ity and kind soul will stay with us for­ever,” he told the mourn­ers, which in­cluded the other four sur­viv­ing pres­i­dents. “So through our tears, let us know the bless­ings of know­ing and lov­ing you, a great and noble man. The best fa­ther a son or daugh­ter could have. And in our grief let us smile know­ing that Dad is hug­ging Robin and hold­ing Mum’s hand again.”

Mr Bush said his­tory would treat his fa­ther’s pres­i­dency well and that he had taught all of his chil­dren not only how to live and love but also how to lead.

“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,” Mr Bush said. “When the his­tory books are writ­ten, they will say that Ge­orge HW Bush was a great pres­i­dent of the United States. A diplo­mat of un­matched skill, a com­man­derin-chief of for­mi­da­ble ac­com­plish­ment — and a gentle­men who ex­e­cuted the du­ties of his of­fice with dig­nity and hon­our.”

As he spoke, Don­ald Trump sat with his wife Me­la­nia along­side Barack and Michael Obama, Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton, and Jimmy and Ros­alynn Carter.

Mr Trump, a ro­bust critic of each of these for­mer pres­i­dents, gave the Oba­mas a brief, for­mal hand­shake upon ar­rival but ig­nored the Clin­tons and Carters and stared straight ahead for the cer­e­mony.

Mr Bush spoke of how he had a con­ver­sa­tion with his fa­ther in the fi­nal min­utes of his life last week.

“Last Fri­day when I was told he had min­utes to live — I called him,” Mr Bush said. “The guy who an­swered the phone said: ‘I think he can hear you but he hasn’t said any­thing for most of the day.’ I said, ‘Dad I love you, you’ve been a won­der­ful fa­ther’, and the last words he would ever say on Earth were, ‘I love you too’.”

But Mr Bush also talked of lighter mo­ments: how his fa­ther couldn’t dance, had a bad short game of golf and hated veg­eta­bles, most fa­mously broc­coli.

As chil­dren, Mr Bush said, “we tested his pa­tience — I know I did. But he al­ways re­sponded with the great gift of un­con­di­tional love.’’

The hand­picked crowd in­side the cathe­dral in­cluded the ex­tended Bush fam­ily as well as Bri­tain’s Prince Charles and for­mer prime min­is­ter John Ma­jor, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, King Ab­dul­lah II and Queen Ra­nia of Jor­dan, and Poland’s Pres­i­dent An­drzej Duda and for­mer pres­i­dent Lech Walesa. The Aus­tralian con­tin­gent in­cluded Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral Pe­ter Cos­grove and golfer Greg Nor­man.

The Bushes also handed out many per­sonal in­vi­ta­tions, in­clud­ing one to the fam­ily’s long­stand­ing elec­tri­cian.

Also giv­ing eu­lo­gies were the for­mer pres­i­dent’s close friends, for­mer sen­a­tor Alan Simp­son, for­mer Cana­dian prime min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney and pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian Jon Meacham. They spoke of his abid­ing loy­alty as a friend, his heroic war ex­ploits when he was shot down in the Pa­cific, and of his skill in guid­ing the US through the volatile years im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the end of the Cold War.

The speak­ers avoided di­rectly con­trast­ing the dig­ni­fied style of Mr Bush’s 1989-93 pres­i­dency to that of Mr Trump, although Mr Meacham de­scribed Mr Bush, a World War II vet­eran, as “the last great sol­dier-states­man”, hark­ing from an era when pres­i­dents “be­lieved in causes larger than them­selves”.

The funeral, drip­ping with pomp and cer­e­mony, be­gan with the pres­i­den­tial hearse driv­ing Mr Bush’s body from the Capi­tol build­ing to the cathe­dral and ended with his body be­ing driven to the air­port to be flown to Hous­ton. The for­mer pres­i­dent’s body will now lie in re­pose at St Mar­tin’s Epis­co­pal Church be­fore be­ing placed on a funeral train to Col­lege Sta­tion, where he will be buried at the Ge­orge HW Bush Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary and Mu­seum.

In try­ing to sum­marise the val­ues that drove his fa­ther, Mr Bush re­cited part of his 1989 in­au­gu­ra­tion speech. “We can­not hope only to leave our chil­dren a big­ger car and big­ger bank ac­count,” Mr Bush said on that day. “We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a lov­ing par­ent, and a cit­i­zen who leaves his home, his neigh­bour­hood and town bet­ter than he found it.”

Cameron Ste­wart is also US Con­trib­u­tor for Sky News Aus­tralia


Clock­wise from top left: a tear­ful Ge­orge W. Bush de­liv­ers the eu­logy yes­ter­day; the for­mer pres­i­dent watches as the cas­ket of his fa­ther is car­ried out of the Na­tional Cathe­dral in Wash­ing­ton; Greg Nor­man with wife Kirsten Kut­ner; the other sur­viv­ing pres­i­dents and their wives, Don­ald and Me­la­nia Trump, Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton, and Jimmy Carter en­joy a lighter re­flec­tion by for­mer sen­a­tor Alan Simp­son

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