To a ‘hero,’ ‘wonderful man’ and neighbor
Houstonians pay respect with tokens of admiration, cherished memories for beloved statesman
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.
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.