A LIFE OF SER­VICE

Tributes pour in for for­mer pres­i­dent

Greenwich Time (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Tol­son

Tributes from around the world poured in Satur­day fol­low­ing the death of Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush, the 41st pres­i­dent of the United States who died in Houston late Fri­day af­ter decades as a pub­lic ser­vant that set in mo­tion an en­dur­ing fam­ily legacy. He was 94.

“The legacy of Ge­orge H.W. Bush will be for­ever etched in the his­tory of Amer­ica and the world. It is a life­long record of self­less pa­tri­otic ser­vice to our na­tion,” for­mer Sec­re­tary of State James Baker said in a state­ment.

“He was the youngest Navy pi­lot in World War II, a Texas con­gress­man, UN am­bas­sador, Amer­ica’s first en­voy to China, CIA di­rec­tor, vice pres­i­dent and pres­i­dent,” he said. “In each and ev­ery one of th­ese po­si­tions, he led with strength, in­tegrity, com­pas­sion and hu­mil­ity — char­ac­ter­is­tics that de­fine a truly great

man and ef­fec­tive leader.”

Bush died peace­fully at his Houston home with Baker and sev­eral mem­bers of his ex­tended fam­ily at his side. Other fam­ily mem­bers were on a speak­er­phone, talk­ing to Bush in his fi­nal mo­ments.

His last words, Baker said, were “I love you, too,” spo­ken to his son, for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

Baker and other world lead­ers past and present on Satur­day saluted Bush, the last pres­i­dent to have served in the mil­i­tary dur­ing World War II and the last whose world­view had been shaped by the im­per­a­tive to con­tain Com­mu­nist ex­pan­sion­ism. His ex­pe­ri­ence in in­ter­na­tional di­plo­macy served him well as he dealt with the un­rav­el­ing of the Soviet Union as an op­pres­sive su­per­power, and later the rise of China as a com­mer­cial be­he­moth and po­ten­tial part­ner.

As cau­tious and re­strained as he was in for­eign mat­ters, Bush had an in­cli­na­tion for per­sonal risk­tak­ing that showed up early in his life, when he be­came a car­rier pi­lot in the war — one of the most dan­ger­ous jobs in the mil­i­tary — and then struck out on his own at war’s end, eschew­ing a com­fort­able job in New York to be­come an oil­man in Texas.

Like­wise, when his in­ter­est turned to pol­i­tics a decade or so later, he was more than will­ing to give up his ex­ec­u­tive suite for a chance at pub­lic of­fice.

Steeped in no­blesse oblige and the im­por­tance of pub­lic ser­vice, Bush al­ways felt the lure of po­lit­i­cal life. It fi­nally snared him in 1962 when he was cho­sen to head Houston’s fledg­ling GOP. He spent the next three decades in the po­lit­i­cal lime­light, en­joy­ing a roller-coaster ca­reer that saw more de­feats than vic­to­ries yet im­prob­a­bly landed him in the White House.

Bush was elected pres­i­dent in 1988 as the suc­ces­sor to Ron­ald Rea­gan, a con­ser­va­tive icon whom he ran against and then served as vice pres­i­dent. Un­like Rea­gan, he was a prag­matic leader guided by mod­er­a­tion, con­sen­sus build­ing, and a sense for prob­lem­solv­ing shorn of par­ti­san rhetoric. Like his fa­ther, who served in the U.S. Se­nate, he swore no al­le­giance to or­tho­dox tenets. That put him at odds with a take-no­pris­on­ers at­ti­tude of a new breed of Repub­li­cans and helped do in his re­elec­tion bid, send­ing him home to Houston in forced re­tire­ment.

Bush was put to the test shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice. Surg­ing move­ments in East­ern Eu­rope saw op­por­tu­nity to free them­selves from the Soviet yoke, thanks in part to the lib­er­al­iz­ing in­flu­ence of Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev. Bush’s mea­sured re­sponse al­lowed events to un­fold, in­clud­ing the de­struc­tion of the Berlin Wall, with­out trig­ger­ing po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic responses from Soviet hard­lin­ers.

Bush again dis­played his di­plo­matic skills in the sum­mer of 1990 when he co­or­di­nated a multi­na­tional re­sponse to the mil­i­tary in­va­sion of tiny Mid­dle East na­tion Kuwait by neigh­bor­ing Iraq and its dic­ta­tor, Sad­dam Hus­sein. The vic­to­ri­ous Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm brought high ap­proval rat­ings that appeared to guar­an­tee a sec­ond term.

Do­mes­tic mat­ters proved a dif­fer­ent sort of chal­lenge. Plagued by in­her­ited bud­get deficits and a Con­gress un­der the con­trol of Democrats, Bush was pushed into a tax in­crease that be­lied his ex­plicit prom­ise to al­low none. He agreed to it be­cause he rec­og­nized it was in the coun­try’s best in­ter­est, but the po­lit­i­cal dam­age was se­vere. His re­elec­tion bid fell short, a fail­ing that haunted him for years. Un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, it even caused him to won­der whether his­tory would re­gard him as a failed pres­i­dent.

It has not.

“I think over the years he fares well,” said pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian Henry Brands, the au­thor of seven pres­i­den­tial bi­ogra­phies and a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Texas. “If vot­ers have a ref­er­en­dum and they vote you down, that au­to­mat­i­cally puts you down a rung. It’s un­fair. Bush al­ways was rated very highly by his­to­ri­ans more than he was by the pub­lic. I think that is chang­ing.”

Bush was born into priv­i­lege and reared in the cra­dle of Amer­ica’s eco­nomic aris­toc­racy, yet from an early age, he re­fused to ride the coat­tails of en­ti­tle­ment. Ap­proach­ing his grad­u­a­tion from Yale Univer­sity in 1948, he was of­fered a job at his fam­ily’s Wall Street in­vest­ment firm, close to his na­tive Con­necti­cut. He turned it down. What­ever his des­tiny, he vowed that it would be fully earned.

So be­gan a re­mark­able jour­ney that would lead him from the el­e­gant es­tates of New Eng­land to the dusty plains of West Texas, to the leafy precincts of Houston’s nicest neigh­bor­hoods, to for­eign cap­i­tals and back to Amer­ica’s own, into po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns at the hum­blest level and one that ul­ti­mately net­ted him the White House.

Bush’s long life en­com­passed the full arc of the 20th cen­tury, be­gin­ning in an era of steamships and a new ide­ol­ogy called com­mu­nism, and end­ing as Amer­i­can space­ships ex­plored dis­tant plan­ets and the ham­mer-and-sickle was mostly a fad­ing em­blem on old flags. He was to be the last pres­i­dent of his gen­er­a­tion, which came of age dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion, par­tic­i­pated in a cat­a­clysmic world war, and ush­ered in un­prece­dented Amer­i­can power and pros­per­ity.

Turn­ing away from the pre­or­dained com­fort­able life, Bush struck out for Texas and found suc­cess, first as an in­de­pen­dent oil­man and later as a young con­gress­man from Houston. The mis­for­tune of bad tim­ing hurt him at times in his pur­suit of higher of­fice, yet a string of high-pro­file ap­pointed po­si­tions re­flected the faith oth­ers had in his abil­ity and kept alive his dream of ful­fill­ing his fa­ther’s pre­dic­tion that some­day he would be­come pres­i­dent.

“The world was for­tu­nate to have his back­ground and in­stincts at a turn­ing point,” said Robert Gates, who served as Bush’s CIA di­rec­tor and deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. “The col­lapse and end of the Cold War look sort of pre-or­dained in hind­sight, but for those who were there, it was not clear how it would hap­pen.”

Though Bush came to be widely re­spected by for­eign lead­ers and diplo­mats, his po­lit­i­cal pro­file at home was dif­fer­ent. He had long been dogged by as­ser­tions that he was a bland and hazy char­ac­ter, aloof and dilet­tan­tish. The image baf­fled him and many who knew him. He was chided for a lack of ap­par­ent vi­sion, yet it was not his na­ture to view him­self as a vi­sion­ary.

“What’s wrong with try­ing to help peo­ple,” he once asked. “What’s wrong with try­ing to bring peace? What’s wrong with try­ing to make the world a lit­tle bet­ter?”

David Hume Ken­nerly / Getty Images

For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush is in­ter­viewed for The Pres­i­dents’ Gate­keep­ers project, about the White House chiefs of staff, at the Bush Li­brary in 2011, in Col­lege Sta­tion, Texas.

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