The con­cept of pub­lic ser­vice was in­grained in the for­mer pres­i­dent

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Mike Tol­son STAFF WRITER

Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush was reared in the cra­dle of Amer­ica’s eco­nomic aris­toc­racy. Yet he re­fused to ride the coat­tails of en­ti­tle­ment.

As he pre­pared to grad­u­ate from Yale in 1948, he was of­fered a job at his fam­ily’s Wall Street in­vest­ment firm. He turned it down. What­ever his des­tiny, he vowed it would be fully earned.

So be­gan a re­mark­able jour­ney from the es­tates of New Eng­land to the dusty plains of West Texas, from the leafy precincts of Hous­ton’s nicest neigh­bor­hoods to for­eign cap­i­tals and ul­ti­mately to the White House.

Bush, the 41st pres­i­dent of the United States, died late Fri­day at his home in Hous­ton. He was 94.

His life was one of pub­lic ser­vice, in- clud­ing a sin­gle term as pres­i­dent in which he dealt with the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, war in the Mid­dle East and eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties at home.

“The legacy of Ge­orge H.W. Bush will be for­ever etched in the his­tory of Amer­ica and the world. It is a life­long record of self­less pa­tri­otic ser­vice to our na­tion,” said James Baker, a close friend of Bush’s who served as his sec­re­tary of state and White House chief of staff.

“He was the youngest Navy pi­lot in World War II, a Texas con­gress­man, U.N. am­bas­sador, Amer­ica’s first en­voy to China, CIA di­rec­tor, vice pres­i­dent and pres­i­dent,” Baker said. “In each and ev­ery one of these po­si­tions, he led with strength, in­tegrity, com­pas­sion and hu­mil­ity — char­ac­ter­is­tics that de­fine a truly great man and ef­fec­tive


Baker and sev­eral mem­bers of Bush’s ex­tended fam­ily were at his side when he died. Other fam­ily mem­bers were on speak­er­phone, talking to Bush in his fi­nal mo­ments.

His last words, Baker said, were “I love you, too,” spo­ken to his son, for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

Bush was the last pres­i­dent to have served in World War II and the last whose world­view had been shaped by the im­per­a­tive to con­tain Com­mu­nism.

His ex­pe­ri­ence in in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy served him well as he dealt with the unraveling of the Soviet Union and the rise of China.

As re­strained as he was in for­eign af­fairs, Bush had an in­cli­na­tion for per­sonal risk­tak­ing that showed up early in his life, when he be­came a car­rier pi­lot — one of the most danger­ous jobs in the mil­i­tary — and then struck out on his own at war’s end, es­chew­ing a com­fort­able New York job to be­come a Texas oil­man. .

Like­wise, when his in­ter­est turned to pol­i­tics, he was more than will­ing to give up the ex­ec­u­tive suite for a chance at pub­lic of­fice.

Steeped in the im­por­tance of pub­lic ser­vice, Bush al­ways felt the lure of po­lit­i­cal life.

It fi­nally snared him in 1962 when he was cho­sen to head Hous­ton’s fledg­ling GOP. He spent the next three decades in the po­lit­i­cal lime­light. His roller-coaster ca­reer saw more de­feats than vic­to­ries, yet im­prob­a­bly landed him in the White House.

Bush was elected pres­i­dent in 1988 as the suc­ces­sor to Ron­ald Rea­gan, a con­ser­va­tive icon whom he ran against and then served as vice pres­i­dent.

Un­like Rea­gan, he was a prag­matic leader guided by mod­er­a­tion, con­sen­sus­build­ing and a sense for prob­lem-solv­ing shorn of par­ti­san rhetoric.

Like his fa­ther, who served in the U.S. Se­nate, he swore no al­le­giance to ortho­dox tenets. That put him at odds with a take-no-pris­on­ers at­ti­tude of a new breed of Repub­li­cans and helped do in his re-elec­tion bid.

Most of Bush’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was spent in ap­pointed jobs, where he demon­strated loy­alty and a quick­study com­pe­tence, rarely mak­ing head­lines.

When he be­came pres­i­dent, many in his party hoped he sim­ply would fol­low in Rea­gan’s foot­steps.

In­stead, he quickly distin­guished him­self as the post­war or­der be­gan to un­dergo dra­matic changes.

Bush was put to the test shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice. Surg­ing move­ments in East- ern Europe saw op­por­tu­nity to free them­selves from the Soviet yoke, thanks in part to the lib­er­al­iz­ing in­flu­ence of Soviet leader Mi- khail Gor­bachev.

Bush’s mea­sured re­sponse al­lowed events to un­fold with­out trig­ger­ing cat­a­strophic re­sponses from Soviet hard-lin­ers.

Bush again dis­played his diplo­matic skills in sum­mer 1990 when he co­or­di­nated a multi­na­tional re­sponse to the in­va­sion of tiny Kuwait by neigh­bor­ing Iraq and its dic­ta­tor, Sad­dam Hus­sein. The vic­to­ri­ous Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm brought high ap­proval rat­ings that ap­peared to guar­an­tee a sec­ond term.

Do­mes­tic mat­ters proved a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge.

Plagued by in­her­ited bud­get deficits and a Congress un­der the con­trol of Democrats, Bush was pushed into a tax in­crease that be­lied his ex­plicit prom­ise to al­low none.

The po­lit­i­cal dam­age was se­vere. His re-elec­tion bid fell short, caus­ing him to won­der whether his­tory would re­gard him as a failed pres­i­dent.

It hasn’t.

“I think over the years he fares well,” said his­to­rian Henry Brands, au­thor of seven pres­i­den­tial bi­ogra­phies and a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas. “If vot­ers have a ref­er­en­dum and they vote you down, that au­to­mat­i­cally puts you down a rung. It’s un­fair. Bush al­ways was rated very highly by his­to­ri­ans more than he was by the pub­lic. I think that is chang­ing.”

Bush’s long life en­com­passed the full arc of the 20th cen­tury, be­gin­ning in an era of steamships and a new ide­ol­ogy called com­mu­nism and end­ing as space­ships ex­plored dis­tant plan­ets and the ham­merand-sickle was a fad­ing em­blem on old flags.

He was to be the last pres­i­dent of his gen­er­a­tion, which came of age dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion, par­tic­i­pated in a cat­a­clysmic world war and ush­ered in un­prece­dented Amer­i­can power and pros­per­ity.

Turn­ing away from the pre­or­dained com­fort­able life, Bush struck out for Texas and found suc­cess, first as an in­de­pen­dent oil­man and later as a con­gress­man from Hous­ton.

The mis­for­tune of bad tim­ing hurt him at times in his pur­suit of higher of­fice, yet a string of high­pro­file ap­pointed po­si­tions re­flected the faith oth­ers had in his abil­ity and kept alive his dream of ful­fill­ing his fa­ther’s pre­dic­tion that some­day he would be­come pres­i­dent.

“The world was for­tu­nate to have his background and in­stincts at a turn­ing point,” said Robert Gates, who served as Bush’s CIA di­rec­tor and deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. “The col­lapse and end of the Cold War look sort of pre­or­dained in hind­sight, but for those who were there, it was not clear how it would hap­pen.”

Gates, who served in eight pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions, sug­gested Bush never re­ceived the credit he de­served for qui­etly “greas­ing the skids” that saw com­mu­nists slide from power in the Soviet Union.

“There is no prece­dent in all of his­tory for the col­lapse of a heav­ily armed em­pire with­out a ma­jor war,” Gates said. “He was a fig­ure of enor­mous his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance.”

Though Bush came to be widely re­spected by for­eign lead­ers and diplo­mats, his po­lit­i­cal pro­file at home was dif­fer­ent.

He’d long been dogged by as­ser­tions that he was a bland and hazy char­ac­ter, aloof and dilet­tan­tish. The im­age baf­fled him and many who knew him. He was chided for a lack of ap­par­ent vi­sion, yet it was not his na­ture to view him­self as a vi­sion­ary.

“What’s wrong with try­ing to help peo­ple?” he once asked. “What’s wrong with try­ing to bring peace? What’s wrong with try­ing to make the world a lit­tle bet­ter?”

To some, Bush paled in com­par­i­son to his White House pre­de­ces­sor, but he was a dif­fer­ent breed of politi­cian: a tra­di­tional Re­pub­li­can whose be­lief in lim­ited gov­ern­ment was in no way at odds with his view that pub­lic ser­vice was a call­ing.

Rea­gan’s maxim that gov­ern­ment was not the solution to a prob­lem but the prob­lem it­self wasn’t Bush’s view, which might ex­plain why his sin­gle term ar­guably re­sulted in more sig­nif­i­cant leg­isla­tive achieve­ments than Rea­gan’s two, among them the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act, a bol­stered Clean Air Act and an in­creased min­i­mum wage.

Bush’s ca­reer from start to fin­ish, es­pe­cially as pres­i­dent, largely was free of scan­dal or great con­tro­versy, with one ex­cep­tion — his role as vice pres­i­dent in the IranCon­tra scan­dal.

His eth­i­cal stan­dards rarely were ques­tioned. His judg­ment was the prod­uct of stud­ied de­lib­er­a­tion and am­ple give-and-take with ad­vis­ers. He reg­u­larly en­ter­tained Demo­cratic lead­ers at the White House and made a great ef­fort to de­velop per­sonal re­la­tion­ships over drinks and a game of horse­shoes, just as he had in the diplo­matic world

“Pres­i­dent Bush was in­clined to for­give and for­get past slights, de­feats, and even out­rages,” long­time aide Chase Un­ter­meyer said. “Thus did he of­fer rides to Maine for Sen. Ge­orge Mitchell, make the daugh­ter of Sen. Sam Nunn the head of the Points of Light Foun­da­tion, and — to clinch the case — be­come bud­dies with Bill Clin­ton.”

Bush was a prac­ti­cal man­ager. He be­lieved his job was to get some­thing done, tak­ing in­cre­men­tal steps when big ones were un­ob­tain­able.

He had no use for those who’d sac­ri­fice progress on the al­tar of philo­soph­i­cal pu­rity, nor did he re­gard op­po­nents as en­e­mies.

He was de­feated in a three-way con­test with Demo­crat Clin­ton and Texas bil­lion­aire Ross Perot — a sour coda to a stel­lar ca­reer.

Though he had been am­biva­lent about even run­ning for re­elec­tion, the loss would gnaw on him. He be­lieved he left the job he signed up for un­fin­ished.

Even years later, Bush re­called the sick feel­ing he car­ried in­side for hav­ing let down the peo­ple who be­lieved in him.

“That was the sad part for me,” said, “and I felt very strongly about that. I still do.”

Bush was born June 12, 1924, in Mil­ton, Mass., to Prescott and Dorothy Bush, the sec­ond of five chil­dren, four of them boys. His child­hood was spent among the na­tion’s eco­nom­i­cally priv­i­leged, with nu­mer­ous trips to fam­ily es­tates in Maine and South Carolina.

Although the De­pres­sion did not se­verely af­fect the Bushes, his par­ents tried to stress that good for­tune should not be taken for granted, in­sist­ing on mod­esty at all times, along with con­cern for those go­ing through hard times. Work mat­tered. Life, they in­sisted, was no coun­try club af­fair.

Bush at­tended Phillips Academy in An­dover, Mass., where he ex­celled aca­dem­i­cally and ath­let­i­cally. He was a fa­vorite of his class­mates, of­ten cho­sen to cap­tain the teams he was on and known to call out bul­lies who be­dev­iled the less pop­u­lar stu­dents.

As he grew to adult­hood, he soaked up the his­tory of the Walk­ers and the Bushes and be­gan to un­der­stand the ex­pec­ta­tions for those of his class — a de­mand for ser­vice to the pub­lic good largely divorced from per­sonal gain.

David Hume Ken­nerly / Getty Images

Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s life jour­ney went from New Eng­land to West Texas to for­eign cap­i­tals and ul­ti­mately to the White House in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

New York Times file photo

With wife Barbara hold­ing the Bible at his side, Ge­orge H.W. Bush is sworn in as the na­tion’s 41st pres­i­dent by Chief Jus­tice Wil­liam Rehn­quist on Jan. 20, 1989.

As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

Bush was the cap­tain of the Yale base­ball team in 1947.

Ge­orge Bush Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary and Mu­seum

Ge­orge and Barbara Bush are sur­rounded by mem­bers of their fam­ily in this photo from Au­gust 1986. Ge­orge W. Bush, who also served as pres­i­dent, is the third adult from the left.

Joshua D. Sheppard / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­den­tial fa­ther and son at­tend a cer­e­mony aboard the air­craft car­rier USS Ge­orge H.W. Bush in 2012.

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