Mul­roney fights tears in lov­ing tribute to former pres­i­dent Bush


WASH­ING­TON — It was his first NATO meet­ing in 1989, and as a pa­rade of world lead­ers took turns at the podium, newly elected U.S. pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush was tak­ing a lot of notes.

Brian Mul­roney, Canada’s prime min­is­ter at the time, couldn’t help but no­tice — and ul­ti­mately couldn’t re­sist.

“It’s very flat­ter­ing to have the pres­i­dent of the United States take notes as you speak,” Mul­roney wryly ob­served dur­ing a mo­ment of lev­ity in his tribute to the life and for­eign-pol­icy legacy of his close friend and con­fi­dant.

“Even some­one as mod­est as me,” he said, paus­ing for a cas­cade of know­ing laugh­ter, “threw in a few more ad­jec­tives here and there, to ex­tend the plea­sure of the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Nearly 30 years later, Mul­roney again spared few su­perla­tives Wed­nes­day dur­ing a solemn and rev­er­en­tial state fu­neral at Wash­ing­ton’s Na­tional Cathe­dral, pre­dict­ing that the 41st pres­i­dent would go down in his­tory as the strong­est, bravest and most dis­tin­guished com­man­der-in-chief the United States has ever known.

“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,” Mul­roney said, with the cur­rent one — Don­ald Trump — sit­ting di­rectly in front of him.

“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 no oc­cu­pant of the Oval Of­fice was more coura­geous, more prin­ci­pled and more hon­ourable than Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush.”

Mul­roney strug­gled at one point to con­tain him­self as he re­counted Bush, a former navy pi­lot, show­ing him a plaque mounted at the fam­ily com­pound in Ken­neb­unkport, Maine. It was in­scribed with the let­ters CAVU: “ceil­ing and vis­i­bil­ity un­lim­ited,” a de­scrip­tion of per­fect fly­ing con­di­tions.

“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,” Mul­roney said, re­fer­ring to notes he made fol­low­ing that Labour Day en­counter in 2001.

“Ge­orge, who had tears in his eyes as I spoke, said, ‘You know, Brian, you’ve got us pegged just right.’ ”

The former prime min­is­ter lin­gered on his old friend’s for­eign­pol­icy and leg­isla­tive re­sume, hail­ing his abil­ity to nav­i­gate some of the most mo­men­tous, frac­tious mo­ments in global his­tory, in­clud­ing the col­lapse of the Soviet Union and the del­i­cate chal­lenge of re­unit­ing a di­vided Ger­many after the col­lapse of the Berlin Wall.

Mul­roney hailed the first Gulf War — a “Bush ini­tia­tive, from be­gin­ning to end” — as “one of the most spec­tac­u­lar and suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tional ini­tia­tives ever un­der­taken in mod­ern his­tory.”

And he cited the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act, the acid-rain ac­cord with Canada, and of course NAFTA, ush­er­ing in “the largest and rich­est free trade area in the his­tory of the world.”

NAFTA, he ac­knowl­edged, has been “re­cently mod­ern­ized and im­proved by new ad­min­is­tra­tions,” a ref­er­ence to both the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in Ot­tawa and Trump him­self, who has fa­mously de­nounced the trade pact as one of the worst deals the United States has ever signed.

“There’s a word for this,” Mul­roney said. “It’s called lead­er­ship. 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.”

Lib­eral cab­i­net min­is­ter Scott Bri­son and Am­bas­sador David MacNaughton were also among an es­ti­mated 3,000 friends, dig­ni­taries, pres­i­dents past and present and other po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights who gath­ered at the cathe­dral for a fi­nal farewell.

“He was just an ex­traor­di­nar­ily gra­cious per­son,” Bri­son said in an in­ter­view Mon­day.

“He came from tremen­dous priv­i­lege, but he chose to use that priv­i­lege and that up­bring­ing to serve the greater good. That sense of no­blesse oblige is some­thing that a lot of peo­ple of priv­i­lege don’t nec­es­sar­ily re­mem­ber, that sense of giv­ing back. That was some­thing he took se­ri­ously.”


Former prime min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney speaks dur­ing the state fu­neral for former U.S. pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day.

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