HEAVEN ‘JUST GOT A BIT KINDER’

Eu­lo­gies re­call Bush’s ci­vil­ity, ser­vice and love of hu­mor

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Diaz

WASH­ING­TON – Ge­orge H.W. Bush was re­mem­bered for his ba­sic ci­vil­ity Wed­nes­day at a state fu­neral in the Na­tional Cathe­dral that brought lead­ers in a city of acrid po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions to­gether to cel­e­brate a pres­i­dent who presided over the end of the Cold War while urg­ing for­ward a kinder and gen­tler United States on the world stage and at home.

A some­times tearful for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, the new pa­tri­arch of one of the na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal dy­nas­ties, de­liv­ered a wrench­ing tribute un­der the tall arch­ways of the mas­sive church, re­call­ing his fa­ther’s hu­mor, his faith and en­dur­ing life les­sons about love, loy­alty and giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity.

“He showed me what it means to be a pres­i­dent who serves with in­tegrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the cit­i­zens of our coun­try,” said the 43rd pres­i­dent, who fol­lowed his fa­ther into the Oval Of­fice by nearly a decade.

“Your de­cency, sin­cer­ity, and kind soul will stay with us for­ever,” said Bush, his voice crack­ing. “So, through our tears let us know the bless­ings of know­ing and lov­ing you, a great and no­ble man, the best fa­ther a son or daugh­ter could have.”

To ap­plause, Bush re­turned

to his seat in the front row, tap­ping his fa­ther’s cas­ket and ac­cept­ing a hug from his wife, Laura.

Ge­orge W. Bush’s was the most emo­tional tribute in a ser­vice marked by re­mem­brances of his fa­ther’s ac­com­plish­ments as a World War II Navy pi­lot, am­bas­sador, vice pres­i­dent, and fi­nally as a pres­i­dent who saw the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, ush­ered in the re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion of Ger­many, and kicked the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait.

Bush largely stuck to the per­sonal.

“To us, his was the bright­est of a thou­sand points of light,” he said, re­call­ing one of his fa­ther’s fa­mil­iar re­frains.

Among the most poignant eu­lo­gies were those that re­counted ges­tures of kind­ness and ex­pres­sions of hu­mil­ity be­fore the great spec­ta­cle of his­tory.

“An im­per­fect man, he left us a more per­fect union,” said pres­i­den­tial bi­og­ra­pher Jon Meacham.

Meacham de­scribed Bush as a man who felt the bur­den of hav­ing been spared death after his World War II bomber was shot down in the Pa­cific, killing two crew mem­bers.

“In a sense, the rest of his life was a peren­nial ef­fort to prove him­self wor­thy of his sal­va­tion on that dis­tant morn­ing,” Meacham said. “To him, his life was no longer his own.”

He called Bush, the last pres­i­dent of the World War II gen­er­a­tion, Amer­ica’s “last great sol­dier-states­man,” re­sem­bling the great­est lead­ers of the na­tion.

“Abra­ham Lin­coln’s bet­ter an­gels of our na­tion and Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s ‘Thou­sand Points of Light’ are com­pan­ion verses in Amer­ica’s na­tional hymn,” Meacham said. “For Lin­coln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the con­ve­nient, to hope rather than to fear and to heed not our worst im­pulses but our best in­stincts.”

Meacham also poked gen­tle fun at Bush’s pub­lic per­sona, de­fined in part by co­me­di­ans and the oc­ca­sional mis­po­ken word.

“On the pri­mary cam­paign trail in New Hamp­shire once, he grabbed the hand of a depart­ment store man­nequin, ask­ing for votes. When he re­al­ized his mis­take, he said, “Never know. Gotta ask.” You can hear the voice, can't you? As Dana Car­vey said, the key to a Bush 41 im­per­son­ation is Mr. Rogers try­ing to be John Wayne.”

For­mer Wyoming Sen. Alan Simp­son, a long­time friend and po­lit­i­cal ally, spoke to one of the low-points in Bush’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, when he broke his “no new taxes” pledge in an ef­fort to com­bat ris­ing fed­eral deficits. It was a de­ci­sion that saw his party turn on him, and likely cost him a sec­ond term.

“He of­ten said that when the re­ally tough choices come, ‘It’s the coun­try, not me. It’s not about Democrats, or Repub­li­cans. It’s for our coun­try, that I fought for,’” Simp­son re­called. “And he was a man of such great hu­mil­ity. Those who travel the high road of hu­mil­ity in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., are not both­ered by heavy traf­fic.”

Simp­son also re­called Bush as a lover of jokes, “the richer the bet­ter” — but also as one who could never re­mem­ber a punch line.

“So, the punch line for Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush is this: You would have wanted him on your side,” Simp­son said. “He never lost his sense of hu­mor. Hu­mor is a uni­ver­sal sol­vent against the abra­sive el­e­ments of life.”

For­mer Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney, who led his coun­try from 1984 to 1993, added an­other Bush eu­logy. Mul­roney said that when world lead­ers worked with Bush, they “knew they were deal­ing with a gen­tle­man, a gen­uine leader, one that was dis­tin­guished, res­o­lute and brave.”

The pres­ence of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at the ser­vice, along with the three other sur­viv­ing pres­i­dents and their spouses, added to a sense of ci­vil­ity in a cer­e­mony pro­vid­ing a nos­tal­gic coun­ter­point to Wash­ing­ton’s di­vi­sions. His in­vi­ta­tion by the Bushes ap­peared to sig­nal a truce be­tween two lead­ing fam­i­lies rep­re­sent­ing dif­fer­ent brands of the Repub­li­can Party and po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

The cer­e­mony was the first pres­i­den­tial fu­neral since Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford died in 2006. But it re­sem­bled in some ways the re­cent ser­vice for the late Ari­zona Sen. John McCain, an­other gath­er­ing of the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment to which Trump point­edly was not in­vited.

Trump did not speak at the Bush send-off, a rar­ity for an of­fi­cial state fu­neral. Sit­ting in a front row pew with for­mer Pres­i­dents Barack Obama, Bill Clin­ton and Jimmy Carter — all Democrats — Trump of­ten held his arms folded, though he raised his hand to his heart when Bush’s cas­ket was car­ried into and out of the cathe­dral.

Though the pres­i­dent and all the for­mer pres­i­dents were ac­com­pa­nied by their wives, Trump did not ex­change greet­ings with for­mer First Lady Hil­lary Clin­ton, whom he de­feated in the 2016 elec­tion.

The pub­lic also got a chance to pay its re­spects Wed­nes­day as thou­sands lined the route of his hearse from the U.S. Capi­tol, where he had lain in state, to the Wash­ing­ton Cathe­dral, a dis­tance of about 5 miles. Along the way, the pro­ces­sion made one last pass by the White House, be­fore his body would be flown back to Texas to be buried by his wife, Bar­bara, who died last April.

In Hous­ton, Bush’s body was sched­uled to lie in re­pose at St. Martin’s Epis­co­pal Church, where Hous­to­ni­ans could pay their re­spects through­out the night be­fore his cas­ket was to be moved to Col­lege Sta­tion Thurs­day, where the fam­ily would hold a pri­vate ser­vice on the grounds of the Ge­orge H.W. Bush Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary at Texas A&M.

Some of the last words of the na­tional ser­vice were pro­vided by the Rev. Dr. Rus­sell Leven­son, Jr., rec­tor of St. Martin’s Epis­co­pal Church in Hous­ton, where the Bushes wor­shiped for the past 50 years

“Some have said in the last few days that this is the end of an era,” Leven­son said. “But it does not have to be. Per­haps it’s an in­vi­ta­tion to fill the hole that has been left be­hind.”

To those who want to honor Bush, Leven­son said, fol­low his ex­am­ple of love: “There’s no greater mis­sion on planet earth. My hunch is heaven, as per­fect as it must be, just got a bit kinder and gen­tler.”

Karen War­ren / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Fam­ily, friends and dig­ni­taries, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and for­mer Pres­i­dents Barack Obama, Bill Clin­ton and Jimmy Carter, hold their hands over their hearts as the cas­ket for for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush passes.

Karen War­ren / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and the rest of the Bush fam­ily fol­low Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s flag-draped cas­ket after Wed­nes­day’s state fu­neral at the Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral.

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