A great president, the best dad: adieu
‘LET US SMILE KNOWING HE’S HOLDING MUM’S HAND IN HEAVEN’
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