To a ‘hero,’ ‘won­der­ful man’ and neigh­bor

Hous­to­ni­ans pay re­spect with to­kens of ad­mi­ra­tion, cher­ished me­mories for beloved states­man

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - GEORGE H.W. BUSH: 1924-2018 - By Emily Fox­hall STAFF WRITER­[email protected]

The sun rose Sat­ur­day morn­ing on the bronze sculp­ture of a younger Ge­orge H.W. Bush, look­ing across Buf­falo Bayou and to­ward the down­town sky­line of the city he called home.

At his feet were six bou­quets of flow­ers — half yel­low and red roses, half red-tipped car­na­tions — and a Vir­gin of Guadalupe can­dle, par­tially burned. A stud­ded, red heart or­na­ment hung from his hand, with a note taped on it: “Well done, good and faith­ful ser­vant.”

Hous­to­ni­ans across the city awoke to the news that the for­mer pres­i­dent, and beloved Hous­to­nian, was dead at the age of 94. In April, they mourned the pass­ing of his wife, first lady Bar­bara Bush. Now some roses and notes be­gan the process of pay­ing re­spects to a man much revered by the city where he died.

Peo­ple put small to­kens of re­mem­brance and paused to take pho­tos at places across Hous­ton: at the gates to his Gal­le­ria-area neigh­bor­hood, at his name­sake air­port and here, at his statue down­town.

Laura Adams, 60, was one of them, pulling up to the statue mid­morn­ing on a bike. She brought with her two yel­low flow­ers in a plas­tic bot­tle, rem­nants of her 39th wed­ding an­niver­sary. She wanted to share them with Bush, whom she con­sid­ered a man of great char­ac­ter. She wore an Astros T-shirt, know­ing he loved the team.

Bush even in his later years at­tended games at Minute Maid Park, just as he long vis­ited down­town theaters, lo­cal restau­rants and St. Martin’s Church, where a ser­vice for him will soon be held.

Adams, who lives nearby, passes by his statue at least weekly, she said. This morn­ing, things felt dif­fer­ent.

“I al­ways say, ‘Hi, Mr. Bush,’” she said, “and now I say, ‘Good­bye Mr. Bush.’”

Tourists and the cu­ri­ous paused to gaze up at the bronze work, while 76-year-old con­ser­va­tion­ist Ben Woitena hur­riedly painted a coat of clear lac­quer on the re­cently-cleaned plaque re­liefs be­hind it. They out­lined Bush’s sto­ried life: His ser­vice in World War II. Cam­paign­ing in Mid­land. His son’s in­au­gu­ra­tion.

“I al­ways ad­mired this pres­i­dent,” said Jim Hass­ing, 62, bring­ing an­other bou­quet. “I hate to see him go.”

Across town, in front of the West Oaks neigh­bor­hood where Bush lived, Jane Parker, who heads the lo­cal home­own­ers as­so­ci­a­tion, and her hus­band Ed looked on as a flo­ral com­pany de­liv­ered and hung pa­tri­otic wreaths of white hy­drangeas and chrysan­the­mums and blue del­phinium on the neigh­bor­hood gates.

Poin­set­tias, minia­ture Amer­i­can flags and a re­li­gious book rested on the con­crete me­dian be­low.

“There you go,” said Ed Parker, 72, stand­ing back as the florists ro­tated a wreath slightly coun­ter­clock­wise. “That’s per­fect.”

It was an emo­tional day in the neigh­bor­hood of 62 homes, in­clud­ing one be­long­ing to Bush’s son Neil, where signs of the pres­i­den­tial fam­ily were every­where. There was the bench the first lady in­sisted be put by the bus stop, so the maids wouldn’t have to stand. The dog bags for use by peo­ple such as her­self, who walked their pets up and down the streets. And the mos­quito spray­ing that the fam­ily sug­gested to help pro­tect the se­cret ser­vice agents guard­ing the home.

The de­tails added to the im­age of the for­mer pres­i­dent and his wife as peo­ple who never put on airs, who were both re­mem­bered here with fond­ness and were both now gone.

“It’s a big loss for the neigh­bor­hood,” said Jane Parker, who has pho­tos of them both among fam­ily pho­tos in her home. “Ev­ery­body trea­sured them, and we will cer­tainly miss them.”

At Hobby and Bush In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal air­ports, dis­play signs payed homage to the pres­i­dents’ death. Air­port of­fi­cials Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon put a flo­ral ar­range­ment next to his statue in the Bush In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Air­port, just be­hind se­cu­rity in Ter­mi­nal C. A lei was placed at his feet.

Flags around the city flew at half-mast. At his of­fice of many years, where a bust of him sits in a dis­play case, staff made prepa­ra­tions for the days to come. The Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary Foun­da­tion CEO paused to re­mem­ber Bush.

Bush was not some­one con­cerned with his legacy, said David Jones, the chief ex­ec­u­tive. He al­ways wanted to leave that up to his­to­ri­ans to de­cide. In a way, Hous­to­ni­ans now were play­ing their part in shap­ing that too.

“They ab­so­lutely loved liv­ing here,” Jones said, adding, “It’s been a dif­fi­cult year, and I think dif­fi­cult for the city of Hous­ton, too, be­cause they were just beloved in Hous­ton. Any time you would go see them at the sym­phony or any kind of a play or a sport­ing event, peo­ple would just stand and ap­plaud.”

Back at the statue down­town, as the sun be­gan to set, Baiba Kurins Gil­lard, 72, pulled up on her bike. She grabbed a bunch of four roses, one each from her par­ents and hus­band, and went to add them to the pile.

“I just wanted to pay homage to a won­der­ful man,” she said, re­mem­ber­ing his in­tegrity and ser­vice to his coun­try. “It’s a great loss be­cause he’s such a hero to so many of us.”

Tina Boushehri, 29, and her friend Anyka Len­nix, 36, took pho­tos on their cell­phones.

“He served our coun­try,” Len­nix said. “Repub­li­can or Demo­crat, I don’t think it mat­ters.”

Prabha Bala, 70, of Sugar Land, walked up next with her 4-yearold grand­son, Ro­han.

“This is Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush,” she told him in front of the statue. “He is about the last of the states­men world lead­ers.”

Hold­ing his wrist, Bala led a squirm­ing Ro­han clock­wise around the statue, a Hindu sign of re­spect.

“It’s a pass­ing of an era,” she said.

Yi-Chin Lee / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Suzette Re­nee Drab prays af­ter leav­ing flow­ers at the gate out­side of for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s home. Hous­to­ni­ans found their own ways to say farewell to the for­mer pres­i­dent.

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