Ge­orge H.W. Bush dies at 94

41st pres­i­dent, Bar­bara Bush’s hus­band made great­est mark in Gulf War


HOUSTON (AP) — He was the man who sought a “kinder, gen­tler na­tion,” and the one who sternly in­vited Amer­i­cans to read his lips — he would not raise taxes. He was the pop­u­lar leader of a mighty coali­tion that dis­lodged Iraq from Kuwait and was turned out of the pres­i­dency af­ter a sin­gle term. Blue-blooded and gen­teel, he was elected in one of the nas­ti­est cam­paigns in re­cent his­tory.

Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush was many things, in­clud­ing only the sec­ond Amer­i­can to see his son fol­low him into the na­tion’s high­est of­fice. But more than any­thing else, he was a be­liever in gov­ern­ment ser­vice. Few men or women

“There is no higher honor than to serve free men and women, no greater priv­i­lege than to la­bor in gov­ern­ment be­neath the Great Seal of the United States and the Amer­i­can flag.”

Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush United States Pres­i­dent

have served Amer­ica in more ca­pac­i­ties than the man known as “Poppy.”

“There is no higher honor than to serve free men and women, no greater priv­i­lege than to la­bor in gov­ern­ment be­neath the Great Seal of

the United States and the Amer­i­can flag,” he told se­nior staffers in 1989, days af­ter he took of­fice.

Bush, who died at age 94 — nearly eight months af­ter his wife of 73 years died at their Houston home — was a con­gress­man, an am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions and en­voy to China, chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, di­rec­tor of the CIA, two-term vice pres­i­dent and, fi­nally, pres­i­dent.

He was no ide­o­logue — he spoke dis­parag­ingly of “the vi­sion thing,” and de­rided the sup­ply-side creed of his fu­ture boss, Ron­ald Rea­gan, as “voodoo eco­nom­ics.” He is gen­er­ally given bet­ter marks by his­to­ri­ans for his for­eign pol­icy achieve­ments than for his do­mes­tic record, but as­sess­ments of his pres­i­dency tend to be tepid.

“Was Ge­orge Bush only a nice man with good con­nec­tions, who sel­dom had to wrest from life the hon­ors it fre­quently be­stowed on him?” jour­nal­ist Tom Wicker asked in his Bush bi­og­ra­phy.

Wicker’s an­swer: Per­haps. But he said Bush’s ac­tions in Kuwait “re­flect mo­ments of courage and vi­sion wor­thy of his of­fice.”

The Per­sian Gulf War — dubbed “Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm” — was his great­est mark on his­tory. In a Jan­uary 2011 in­ter­view mark­ing the war’s 20th an­niver­sary, he said the mis­sion sent a mes­sage that “the United States was will­ing to use force way across the world, even in that part of the world where those coun­tries over there thought we never would in­ter­vene.”

“I think it was a sig­na­ture his­tor­i­cal event,” he added. “And I think it will al­ways be.”

Af­ter Iraq in­vaded Kuwait in Au­gust 1990, Bush quickly be­gan build­ing an in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary coali­tion that in­cluded other Arab states. Af­ter free­ing Kuwait, he re­jected sug­ges­tions that the U.S. carry the of­fen­sive to Bagh­dad, choos­ing to end the hos­til­i­ties a mere 100 hours af­ter the start of the ground of­fen­sive.

“That wasn’t our ob­jec­tive,” he said. “The good thing about it is there was so much less loss of hu­man life than had been pre­dicted, and in­deed than we might have feared.”

But the de­ci­sive mil­i­tary de­feat did not lead to the regime’s down­fall, as many in the ad­min­is­tra­tion had hoped.

“I mis­cal­cu­lated,” Bush ac­knowl­edged. The Iraqi leader was even­tu­ally ousted in 2003, in the war led by Bush’s son that was fol­lowed by a long, bloody in­sur­gency.

Un­like his son, who joined the Texas Air Na­tional Guard dur­ing the Viet­nam era but served only in the U.S., the elder Bush was a bona fide war hero. He joined the Navy on his 18th birth­day in 1942 over the ob­jec­tions of his fa­ther, Prescott, who wanted him to stay in school. At one point the youngest pi­lot in the Navy, he flew 58 mis­sions off the car­rier USS San Jac­into.

His wartime ex­ploits won him the Distin­guished Fly­ing Cross for brav­ery. He was shot down on Sept. 2, 1944, while com­plet­ing a bomb­ing run against a Ja­panese ra­dio tower. Eight oth­ers who were shot down in that mis­sion were cap­tured and ex­e­cuted, and sev­eral were eaten by their cap­tors. But an Amer­i­can sub­ma­rine res­cued Bush. Even then, he was an in­vet­er­ate col­lec­tor of friends: Aboard the sub “I made friend­ships that have lasted a life­time,” he would write.

This was a man who hand wrote thou­sands of thank you notes — each one per­son­al­ized, each one quickly dis­patched. Even his po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries would ac­knowl­edge his exquisite man­ners. Ad­mon­ished by his mother to put oth­ers first, he rarely used the per­sonal pro­noun “I,” a quirk ex­ploited by co­me­dian Dana Car­vey in his “Satur­day Night Live” im­pres­sions of the pres­i­dent.

Bush was born June 12,

1924, in Mil­ton, Mass. His fa­ther, the son of an Ohio steel mag­nate, had moved east to make his for­tune as an in­vest­ment banker with Brown Broth­ers, Har­ri­man, and later served 10 years as a se­na­tor from Con­necti­cut. His mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, was the daugh­ter of a sports­man who gave golf its Walker’s Cup.

Com­pet­i­tive ath­let­ics were a pas­sion for the Bushes, whether at home in Green­wich, Conn., or dur­ing long sum­mers spent at Walker’s Point, the fam­ily’s ocean­front re­treat in Ken­neb­unkport, Maine. Bush, along with his three broth­ers and one sis­ter, had lives of priv­i­lege seem­ingly un­touched by the Great De­pres­sion.

Young Bush at­tended Green­wich Coun­try Day School and later Phillips Academy at An­dover, Mass., where he was se­nior class pres­i­dent and cap­tain of the base­ball and soc­cer teams. It was there, at a dance, that he met Bar­bara Pierce, daugh­ter of the pub­lisher of

McCall’s mag­a­zine. Ge­orge and Bar would marry when he left the Navy in Jan­uary

1945. They were to­gether for more than seven decades, be­com­ing the long­est-mar­ried pres­i­den­tial cou­ple in U.S. his­tory. She died on April 17, 2018.

Out of the ser­vice, Bush re­sumed his ed­u­ca­tion at Yale. Lean and 6-foot-2, he distin­guished him­self as first base­man and cap­tain of the base­ball team, which went to the Col­lege World

Se­ries twice. He took just

2½ years to grad­u­ate Phi Beta Kappa.

But rather than join­ing his fa­ther on Wall Street, in

1948 he loaded his wife and young son Ge­orge W. into the fam­ily Stude­baker and drove to the hot, dusty Texas oil patch to take a job as an equip­ment clerk for the In­ter­na­tional Der­rick and Equip­ment Co.

He did ev­ery­thing from paint­ing oil pumps and sell­ing oil­field equip­ment to dis­cov­er­ing a taste for Lone Star beer and chicken fried steaks. At first, the fam­ily lived in Odessa in a two apart­ment shot­gun house with a shared bath­room; by 1955, they would own a house in Mid­land, and Bush would be co-owner of the Za­p­ata Petroleum Corp.

By the turn of the decade, the fam­ily — and Bush’s busi­ness — had moved to Houston. There, he got his star t in pol­i­tics, the tra­di­tional

Bush fam­ily busi­ness. A hand­some and well-spo­ken war hero, he was sought as a can­di­date by both par­ties. He chose the Repub­li­cans.

Bush lost his first race, a 1964 chal­lenge to Sen. Ralph Yar­bor­ough but won a seat in the House in 1966. He won re-elec­tion in 1968 with­out op­po­si­tion. In Con­gress, he gen­er­ally sup­ported Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon and the war in Viet­nam.

In 1970, he tried for the Se­nate again. Yar­bor­ough was up­set in the Demo­cratic pri­mary by Lloyd Bentsen, and Bentsen de­feated Bush in the gen­eral elec­tion. Eigh­teen years later, Bentsen would be the Demo­cratic vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee on the ticket that lost to Bush and his run­ning mate, Dan Quayle.

Nixon ap­pointed Bush am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions and, af­ter the 1972 elec­tion, named him chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee. Bush strug­gled to hold the party to­gether as Water­gate de­stroyed the Nixon pres­i­dency. He urged Nixon to quit one day be­fore the pres­i­dent re­signed in Au­gust 1974.

De­nied the vice pres­i­dency by Ger­ald Ford in fa­vor of Nel­son Rock­e­feller, Bush was given his choice of jobs and sur­prised Ford by ask­ing to head the small mis­sion in Bei­jing. Then, in 1975, Ford put Bush in charge of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency, be­set by con­gres­sional prob­ing and al­le­ga­tions of as­sas­si­na­tion plots and do­mes­tic spy­ing.

Bush re­turned to pri­vate life when the Repub­li­cans lost the pres­i­dency in 1976, but he quickly be­gan plan­ning his own run for the White House.

He won the first con­test of 1980, the Iowa cau­cuses, and boasted that he had the “big mo,” his slang for mo­men­tum. But Rea­gan, who had led the con­ser­va­tive move­ment for more than a decade, won the New Hamp­shire pri­mary and the nom­i­na­tion. His choice of Bush as his run­ning mate was a near thing. Rea­gan — still smart­ing from Bush’s ridicule of “voodoo eco­nom­ics,” first wanted to pick Ger­ald Ford and asked Bush only af­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions broke down. They went on to de­feat Jimmy Carter and Wal­ter Mon­dale.

In 1988, many Democrats as­sumed Bush would be easy pick­ings. He was the man “born with a sil­ver foot in his mouth,” as fel­low Texan Ann Richards jibed at the Democrats’ con­ven­tion in At­lanta. He trailed Michael Dukakis by as many as 17 points that sum­mer. Bush did lit­tle to help him­self by pick­ing Quayle, a lightly re­garded ju­nior se­na­tor from In­di­ana, as a run­ning mate.

The cam­paign was bit­ter and muddy. Ad­vised by cam­paign man­ager Lee At­wa­ter, Bush be­came an ag­gres­sor, wrap­ping him­self in pa­tri­otic themes and set­tings — even vis­it­ing a flag fac­tory — while flay­ing Dukakis as an out-of-touch lib­eral. Com­mer­cials ham­mered Dukakis for a prison fur­lough pol­icy that al­lowed mur­derer Wil­lie Hor­ton to rape a woman while out on a week­end pass.

Bush won by a land­slide, with 40 states and a nearly 7 mil­lion vote plu­ral­ity, be­com­ing the first sit­ting vice pres­i­dent to win the White House since Martin Van Buren in 1836. He en­tered of­fice with a rep­u­ta­tion as a man of in­de­ci­sion and in­de­ter­mi­nate views. A wimp, one news­magazine sug­gested.

But his work-hard, play­hard ap­proach to the pres­i­dency won broad pub­lic ap­proval. He held more news con­fer­ences in most months than Rea­gan did in most years.

He pledged to make the United States a “kinder, gen­tler” na­tion and called on Amer­i­cans to vol­un­teer their time for good causes — an ef­fort he said would cre­ate “a thou­sand points of light.”

It was Bush’s vi­o­la­tion of a dif­fer­ent pledge, the no-new-taxes prom­ise, that helped sink his bid for a sec­ond term. He aban­doned the idea in his sec­ond year, cut­ting a deficit-re­duc­tion deal that an­gered many con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans and con­trib­uted to GOP losses in the 1990 midterm elec­tions.

He also set out to be “the ed­u­ca­tion pres­i­dent,” but did lit­tle more than call on states and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to stiffen their school stan­dards.

Bush, an avid out­doors­man who took Theodore Roo­sevelt as a model, sought to safe­guard the en­vi­ron­ment, sign­ing the first im­prove­ments to the Clean Air Act in more than a decade. It was ac­tivism with a Repub­li­can cast, al­low­ing pol­luters to buy oth­ers’ clean air cred­its and giv­ing in­dus­try flex­i­bil­ity on how to meet tougher goals on smog.

He also signed the land­mark Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act to ban work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion against peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and re­quire im­proved ac­cess to pub­lic places and trans­porta­tion.

Months af­ter the Gulf War, Wash­ing­ton be­came en­grossed in a dif­fer­ent sort of con­fronta­tion over one of Bush’s nom­i­nees to the Supreme Court — Clarence Thomas, a lit­tle-known fed­eral ap­peals court judge. Af­ter a for­mer col­league named Anita Hill ac­cused Thomas of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, Thomas’ con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings ex­ploded into a na­tional spec­ta­cle, spark­ing an in­tense de­bate over race, gen­der and the mod­ern work­place. He was even­tu­ally con­firmed.


In this Nov. 8, 1988 file photo, Pres­i­dent-elect Ge­orge H.W. Bush and his wife Bar­bara wave to sup­port­ers in Houston, Texas, af­ter win­ning the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Bush has died at age 94. Fam­ily spokesman Jim McGrath says Bush died shortly af­ter 10 p.m. Fri­day, Nov. 30, 2018, about eight months af­ter the death of his wife, Bar­bara Bush.


In this June 5, 1989 file, photo, U.S. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush holds a news con­fer­ence at the White House in Wash­ing­ton, where he con­demned the Chi­nese crack­down on prodemoc­racy demon­stra­tors in Bei­jing’s Tianan­men Square.


In this Nov. 22, 1990, file photo, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush is greeted by Saudi troops and oth­ers as he ar­rives in Dhahran, Saudi Ara­bia, for a Thanks­giv­ing visit. Bush died at the age of 94 on Fri­day, Nov. 30, about eight months af­ter the death of his wife, Bar­bara Bush.

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