Friend and for­mer sec­re­tary of state Baker re­counts Bush’s fi­nal mo­ments with fam­ily

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Tony Freemantle STAFF WRITER [email protected]

» James Baker re­counts his friend’s last day — one filled with mu­sic and fam­ily.

On Thurs­day, the day be­fore he died, for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush had taken a sig­nif­i­cant turn for the worse. He had not been out of bed for sev­eral days and had not eaten any­thing ex­cept for a cou­ple of spoons of ap­ple­sauce. Those close to him thought the end was near.

On Fri­day morn­ing, his close friend, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State James Baker, dropped by for a visit. Bush was alert, sit­ting up in bed, and had a large break­fast — three 5-minute soft-boiled eggs, a large cup of yo­gurt and two fruit drinks.

“We all thought, ‘Well wait a minute here,’ ” Baker said in an in­ter­view Sat­ur­day. “He’s con­found­ing us again be­cause this wouldn’t have been the first time he bounced back and fooled ev­ery­body when they thought he was check­ing out.”

Baker was not just Bush’s sec­re­tary of state. He was his life­long friend, ten­nis part­ner and con­fi­dant. So dur­ing the re­cent ups and downs, Baker vis­ited of­ten. On Fri­day even­ing, Baker and his wife, Su­san, stopped by again at the Bush home in Tan­gle­wood, and the for­mer pres­i­dent ap­peared to still be do­ing rel­a­tively well. He was alert, sit­ting up and re­spond­ing to ques­tions.

The Ir­ish tenor Ro­nan Ty­nan was at the house and sang “Silent Night” for him, with Bush mouthing the words to the song.

“Ev­ery­thing about it was quite emo­tional,” Baker said, “but it was sweet.”

The Bak­ers went out to din­ner with friends and on the way home re­ceived word that Bush had again taken a turn for the worse. They re­turned to the home.

Some fam­ily mem­bers had gath­ered at the house, in­clud­ing son Neil, his wife, Maria, and Marvin Bush’s daugh­ter, Mar­shall.

Other fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, had called in on a speak­er­phone.

“They tell me at the end of life the last thing to go is your hear­ing,” Baker said. “So he heard them and the last words I heard him speak was when 43 (Ge­orge W. Bush) called him and said, ‘Dad, I love you. I just wanted to call and tell you good­bye and tell you how much I love you.’ And 41 said, ‘I love you, too.’

“And those were the last words I heard him say. He was gone in about 40 min­utes af­ter that, and it was a very gen­tle and peace­ful pass­ing.”

Baker said Bush was ready to go. Af­ter his wife, Bar­bara, died in April, Baker said, Bush was telling friends and fam­ily that he wasn’t ready to die.

“I saw him about three or four weeks ago, maybe four or five weeks ago,” Baker said. “And I said ‘Jefe’ — I was over there hav­ing a drink with him — I said ‘Jefe’, you want to live to be 100 don’t you?’

“He said, ‘Yes, I do, but I don’t think I’m go­ing to make it.’

“What a beau­ti­ful hu­man be­ing.”

Gary Foun­tain / Con­trib­u­tor

For­mer Sec­re­tary of State James A. Baker III, left, with for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush at Baker’s 75th birth­day party in 2005. Baker said the Bush pa­tri­arch spent his fi­nal mo­ments with fam­ily and mu­sic. “Ev­ery­thing about it was quite emo­tional, but it was sweet,” Baker said.

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