‘THE GOODNESS THAT LED TO HIS GREATNESS’
Houston funeral draws family, friends to final, fitting farewell
A week of national remembrance for former President George H.W. Bush culminated Thursday in his adopted home state of Texas, where hundreds of funeral mourners honored the nation’s 41st leader as a humble cornerstone of American history and family buried the devoted patriarch alongside his beloved wife and daughter.
In an 80-minute service Thursday morning inside the cavernous St. Martin’s Episcopal Church where the Bushes worshipped more than 50 years, soaring patriotic hymns book-ended remembrances of Bush as a “charter member of the Greatest Generation,” whose upstanding character guided his heroic military service, accomplished political career and devotion to family.
Immediately following the service, Bush’s casket was taken by train to College Station, where he was interred during a private afternoon ceremony on the grounds of his presidential library.
The solemn proceedings marked the fourth and final day of formal events honoring Bush, who died Nov. 30 at his Houston home. He was 94 and had been in declining health as he dealt with a form of Parkinson’s disease. His wife of 73 years, Barbara, died in April and was memorialized in the same church.
“He possessed the classic vir-
tues of our civilization and of his faith, the same virtues that express what is really best about our country,” James A. Baker III, Bush’s chief political compatriot and friend of more than 60 years, said during a warm eulogy at Thursday’s funeral. “History has shown that few families accomplished as much as his has. His legacy lives on with his children, who have contributed so very much to what makes our nation great.”
Best remembered for helping to orchestrate the end of the Cold War and heading a political dynasty with dignity, the one-term president was lauded Wednesday with a state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral. The five living Oval Office occupants attended the service, including eldest son and former President George W. Bush, who delivered a moving eulogy.
Though he was born into the American East Coast elite, Bush built his family, fortune and political career in Texas, where he first moved in 1948. An estimated 11,700 people bid farewell to him as he lay in repose at St. Martin’s from Wednesday evening through early Thursday.
The carefully orchestrated funeral, which began at 10 a.m. Thursday, catered more to family and friends than the political class. His immediate relatives, considered testaments to his character, filled several rows. George W. Bush entered last to find the congregation, which included a number of notable Houstonians, on its feet. They turned and placed hands over their hearts as the casket was carried in, preceded by an American flag.
The church’s choir, accompanied by a brass band, opened the service with “America the Beautiful” and ended with “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” anthems that the former World War II U.S. Navy pilot loved. The church’s rector, the Rev. Russell J. Levenson Jr., delivered an uplifting homily in which he imagined the former president receiving “a big old Texas-sized hug” in heaven from Barbara and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia at the age of 3 in 1953.
Bush’s eldest grandson, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, tenderly recalled moments with his “Gampy,” who cherished eating Bluebell ice cream, challenging anyone in a game of horseshoes and sending letters to relatives through their best and worst moments.
“In our times together, our big, wonderful and competitive family saw the goodness that led to his greatness,” said George P. Bush, the only member of the family political dynasty who currently holds elected office.
A PRESIDENT AND A FRIEND
Bush’s casket, draped with an American flag, sat at the front of the church in the center aisle throughout the service, with 43rd President George W. Bush seated closest to it. The elder Bush’s five living children and their spouses occupied a front pew during the funeral, along with Baker. Eight grandsons served as honorary pallbearers and six granddaughters read Scripture.
Muted light from an overcast day shone through stained glass windows into the chilly sanctuary. Candles flickered on the altar, decorated with white flowers.
Baker, a fellow Houstonian who oversaw Bush’s presidential campaigns and served as his secretary of state, opened the tributes with a heartfelt homage to their decadeslong friendship. He noted that Bush would have shunned the laudatory attention lavished on him in recent days.
The 10-minute eulogy, which began briskly and confidently with an air of admiration, ended with Baker fighting back tears. In the hours after Bush’s death, it fell to Baker to tell about Bush’s last living moments, how he rubbed his close companion’s feet, how the last words that Bush spoke were “I love you” to his eldest son.
“We rejoice, Mr. President, that you are safely tucked in now, and through the ages, with God’s loving arms around you,” Baker said, concluding his remarks. “Because our glory, George, was to have had you as our president, and, as such, a friend.”
Levenson, who also delivered the homily at Barbara Bush’s funeral, highlighted the unassuming nature he saw in Bush, recounting how the future president taught Sunday school, served coffee and corralled four giggly boys on a wiggly pew during their five decades in attendance.
“[W]e have lost more than a leader,” Levenson said. “He, like his wife of over 70 years, Barbara, had that unique ability to make you feel like he was your best friend, and you were his. And he
A FINAL RESTING PLACE
An estimated 1,200 people attended the service, many of them members of Houston royalty. The guest list included Houston athletes such as former Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan, former Rockets center Yao Ming and Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, befitting Bush’s love of sports. Gallery Furniture owner Jim McIngvale, philanthropists Nancy and Rich Kinder, and sports franchise owners Drayton McLane and Tilman Fertitta also were listed as attendees.
Several of the state’s top political leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and outgoing Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, sat across the aisle from the family in a front pew.
In a nod to Bush’s musical tastes, country legend Reba McEntire crooned “The Lord’s Prayer,” and the four-member Oak Ridge Boys delivered an a capella version of “Amazing Grace.”
Bush’s longtime friends punctuated the ceremony with moments of humor in keeping with the former president’s sensibilities. Oak Ridge Boys tenor Joe Bonsall recalled that Bush “fancied himself to be a good bass singer,” but dryly quipped, “He was not.” Baker recited one of Bush’s favorite verbal jabs when they engaged in heated debates: “If you’re so smart, why am I president and you’re not?”
Following the funeral, which ended about 11:20 a.m., former First Lady Laura Bush clutched George W. Bush’s arm as he stoically watched his father’s casket loaded inside a hearse. The sounds of trumpets and drums floated over the church.
Family members then traveled by motorcade to Union Pacific’s Auto Facility in Spring, where they boarded Locomotive 4141 with Bush’s casket for transport to College Station amid a steady drizzle.
Thousands of people lined the tracks for the 70-mile trip to College Station, carrying flags and children, raising salutes and waving to the Bush family inside the train.
The casket arrived just after 4 p.m. As more than 2,000 students from the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets stood at attention along the road near the library, relatives were ushered toward Bush’s final resting place at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
The service was private, but overhead, beneath an overcast sky, Navy pilots performed an unprecedented “missing man” formation with 21 aircraft. The jets flew in groups of four, with a single aircraft peeling off from the rest, signifying the loss of an aviator. Afterward, the sounds of a 21-gun salute reverberated across the grounds.
“He possessed the classic virtues of our civilization and of his faith, the same virtues that express what is really best about our country.”
James A. Baker III, Bush’s former secretary of state and longtime friend
pulled it off with charm, and humility, and humor, with few, if any, rivals.”
Well-wishers look on as Locomotive 4141 passes through the Spring area on its way to College Station for former President George H.W. Bush’s burial.
Former President George H.W. Bush’s casket is attended by an honor guard as it passes through Magnolia, surrounded by hundreds of mourners.
Members of the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets salute as the U.S. Navy performs a 21-strike aircraft “missing man” formation to honor the former president.
George H.W. Bush’s eldest grandson, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, lays a hand on the casket of “Gampy” during the funeral service at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said in his eulogy that “our glory, George, was to have had you as our president.”