‘He was ready for heaven’

For­mer U.s. pres­i­dent Ge­orge h.W. bush laid to rest be­side wife, daugh­ter who died at 3


hoUs­ToN — Thou­sands waved and cheered along the route as fu­neral train No. 4141 — for the 41st pres­i­dent — car­ried Ge­orge h.W. bush’s re­mains to their fi­nal resting place on Thurs­day, his last jour­ney as a week of na­tional re­mem­brance took on a de­cid­edly per­sonal feel in an emo­tional home state farewell.

some peo­ple laid coins along the tracks that wound through small-town Texas so the lo­co­mo­tive pulling the na­tion’s first fu­neral train in nearly half a cen­tury could crunch them into sou­venirs. oth­ers snapped pic­tures or crowded for views so close that po­lice he­li­copters over­head had to warn them back. el­e­men­tary stu­dents hoisted a ban­ner sim­ply read­ing “ThaNK yoU.”

The scenes rem­i­nis­cent of a by­gone era fol­lowed a se­ri­ous and more som­bre tone at an ear­lier fu­neral ser­vice at a hous­ton church, where bush’s for­mer sec­re­tary of state and con­fi­dant for decades, James baker, ad­dressed him as “jefe,” span­ish for “boss.” at times chok­ing back tears, baker praised bush as “a beau­ti­ful hu­man be­ing” who had “the courage of a war­rior. but when the time came for pru­dence, he main­tained the greater courage of a peace­maker.”

baker also pro­vided a con­trast with to­day’s di­vi­sive po­lit­i­cal rhetoric, say­ing that bush’s “wish for a kin­der, gen­tler na­tion was not a cyn­i­cal po­lit­i­cal slo­gan. it came hon­est and un­guarded from his soul.”

“The world be­came a bet­ter place be­cause Ge­orge bush oc­cu­pied the White house for four years,” baker said.

as the post-fu­neral mo­tor­cade car­ry­ing bush’s re­mains later sped down a closed high­way from the church to the train sta­tion, con­struc­tion work­ers on all lev­els of an un­fin­ished build­ing paused to watch. a man sit­ting on a fer­ris wheel near the aquar­ium waved.

bush’s body was later loaded onto a spe­cial train fit­ted with clear sides so peo­ple could catch a glimpse of the cas­ket as it rum­bled by. The train trav­elled about 112 km in two-plus hours — the first pres­i­den­tial fu­neral train jour­ney since dwight d. eisen­hower’s re­mains went from Wash­ing­ton to his na­tive Kansas 49 years ago — to the fam­ily plot on the grounds of bush’s pres­i­den­tial li­brary at Texas a&m Univer­sity. bush’s fi­nal resting place is along­side his wife, bar­bara, and robin bush, the daugh­ter they lost to leukemia at age three.

in the town of cy­press, 55-yearold doug allen left eight coins on the tracks be­fore the train passed — three quar­ters, three dimes and two pen­nies. The train left the coins flat­tened and slightly dis­coloured.

“it’s some­thing we’ll al­ways keep,” allen said.

The train ar­rived at col­lege sta­tion in the late af­ter­noon with a mil­i­tary band play­ing hail to the chief and Texas a&m’s ag­gie War hymn.

about 2,100 cadets in their dress uni­forms with jack­ets and ties and knee-high boots waited for hours on a cold, grey day to line the road —known as bar­bara bush drive— to the bush li­brary’s front doors. The U.s. Navy con­ducted a 21 strike fighter fly­over, a salute to the sec­ond World War Navy pi­lot, fol­lowed by a 21-gun can­non salute on the ground.

at the ear­lier ser­vice at hous­ton’s st. martin’s epis­co­pal church, where bush and his fam­ily reg­u­larly wor­shipped, the choir sang This is my coun­try, which was also sung at bush’s pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­ra­tion in 1989. Those gath­ered heard a prayer stress­ing the im­por­tance of ser­vice and self­less­ness that the pres­i­dent him­self of­fered for the coun­try at the start of his term.

There were rous­ing ren­di­tions of the bat­tle hymn of the repub­lic and on­ward chris­tian sol­diers, and also per­for­mances from some of bush’s coun­try favourites. The oak ridge boys re­called play­ing for him for decades — some­times at the White house — and joked that bush “fan­cied him­self to be a good bass singer. he was not.” They then sang amaz­ing Grace, and reba mcen­tire of­fered a mu­si­cal ver­sion of The lord’s Prayer.

in place of most fed­eral dig­ni­taries were top hous­ton ath­letes in­clud­ing the NFl Tex­ans’ de­fen­sive end J.J. Watt — dis­play­ing bush’s love for sports — and chuck Nor­ris, who played TV’s “Walker, Texas ranger.”

Grand­son Ge­orge P. bush, the only mem­ber of the po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty still hold­ing elected of­fice, as Texas land com­mis­sioner, used a eu­logy to praise the man the younger gen­er­a­tions called “gampy.”

“he left a sim­ple, yet pro­found legacy to his chil­dren, to his grand­chil­dren and to his coun­try: ser­vice,” Ge­orge P. bush said.

The church’s pas­tor, rev. rus­sell leven­son, Jr., re­called the bushes of­ten at­tend­ing ser­vices and of­fer­ing to give up their seats to oth­ers on days when the church was par­tic­u­larly crowded.

“he was ready for heaven and heaven was ready for him,” leven­son said of bush who was in de­clin­ing in health in re­cent years. The min­is­ter also sug­gested that when the for­mer pres­i­dent died, he met his wife of 73 years in heaven and bar­bara bush play­fully de­manded, “What took you so long?”

in­deed, the fu­neral oc­curred at the same church where ser­vices were held in april for bar­bara bush. Those are re­mem­bered for an emo­tional scene when the for­mer pres­i­dent gazed from his wheel­chair up at her cas­ket, then shook hands with well-wish­ers.

David J. phillip/The As­so­ci­ATed Press

The flag-draped cas­ket of for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush passes through Mag­no­lia, Texas, on Thurs­day. Bush was laid to rest be­side his wife Laura and daugh­ter Robin, who died at age three.

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