Bush, 41st president, led long life of service, dignity
Head of GOP political dynasty dies 7 months after wife at 94
Former President George H.W. Bush — who buried his wife, Barbara, earlier this year — died Friday at 94.
Serving for a single term, Bush occupied the Oval Office from 1989 to 1993. During that time, Bush led the United States to victory in a 1991 effort to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.
Bush lost his bid for reelection to President Bill Clinton, but saw his son, George W. Bush, elected president eight years later. That established his family as a political dynasty alongside the Adams and Kennedy families.
Before becoming president, Bush was elected to Congress and served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and vice president under Ronald Reagan.
Bush has suffered from respiratory problems in recent years, and about a year ago he was hospitalized for two weeks to treat pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. Earlier in 2017 Bush spent 16 days in the hospital for a separate case of pneumonia.
Bush also suffered from vascular parkinsonism, a rare condition whose symptoms are similar to Parkinson’s Disease. For the last several years, he had relied on a wheelchair.
The elder Bush was the last president from the generation that endured the Great Depression of the 1930s, won World War II, built a prosperous and powerful postwar America and won the Cold War against Soviet communism.
Born June 12, 1924, to wealth and privilege, Bush chose a life of duty and service that spanned five decades, from his service as the Navy’s youngest pilot in World War II
to stints in Congress, as ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican Party, liaison to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vice president and finally to his election as the country’s 41st president.
“It has been a wonderful journey,” he wrote as he looked forward to his 80th birthday on June 12, 2004.
In the first rush of history, analysts rate Bush an average president, triumphant in war and foreign policy but saddled at home with a recession.
“He’s probably ranked in the middle of the presidents,” said Bill Levantrosser, a political scientist at Hofstra University in New York. “As time goes on, though, I think he’s going to rise in people’s estimates.”
Herbert Parmet, author of the first definitive biography, “George Bush: The Life of a Lone Star Yankee,” said Bush would be remembered for his leadership in foreign affairs but also for running an administration comparatively free of scandal.
With a uniquely personal style of leadership and diplomacy, Bush will be remembered as the president who assembled an international coalition against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein after Saddam’s army invaded neighboring Kuwait and threatened oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
Bush resolutely drew what he called a “line in the sand” and declared that the invasion would not stand.
Facing reluctance at home and abroad, Bush first convinced the American people that it was in their interest to push Iraq back. Then, in a stream of personal phone calls to world leaders, he marshaled an international coalition the likes of which had not been seen since World War II.
On the eve of war, Bush wrote to his own five children about the choices he faced.
“When the question is asked, ‘How many lives are you willing to sacrifice?’ it tears at my heart,” he wrote. “The answer, of course, is none, none at all.”
He shared a concern that he might face impeachment if a war proved long and unsuccessful, but added that he viewed the confrontation with Iraq and Saddam as one of good vs. evil, akin to the war against Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
“Sometimes in life, you have to act as you think best. You can’t compromise, you can’t give in, even if your critics are loud and numerous.”
Just weeks later, in January 1991, a U.S.-led juggernaut slaughtered Iraq’s forces and liberated Kuwait. Agreeing with his military advisers, Bush ordered an end to the assault with Iraq’s forces in retreat, a move that left Saddam in power.
Bush later said he had thought the Iraqi people would overthrow Saddam themselves.
A vengeful Saddam later plotted to have Bush assassinated after he had left office. In retaliation, Clinton bombed the Iraqi national intelligence headquarters.
Saddam remained in power until he was toppled in 2003 by an invasion led by Bush’s son.
The elder Bush also oversaw the West’s victory over Soviet communism after 50 years of Cold War. The victory had been won over the decades, but Bush got credit for his even-handed response when the Soviet Union finally collapsed.
“Some wanted an overreaction,” Parmet said. “But Bush said we don’t have to dance on the Berlin Wall. Steering the end of the Cold War without having the Russians or the Soviet Union collapse in a way that would have redounded to our disadvantage, without pushing them into the arms of hard-line extremists, that was extraordinarily important to the legacy in a way most Americans do not appreciate.”
Two weeks after the war against Iraq ended, 91 percent of the American people said they liked Bush and approved of the job he was doing. Yet just beneath the euphoria of victory was economic anxiety — simmering anger at a president who had raised taxes in violation of his “read my lips” campaign pledge not to do so and growing angst over the toll a broad recession had taken on wages and personal financial security.
Bush, a patrician and wealthy man who spent his summers at a sprawling oceanfront retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, was often accused of failing to empathize with his less-privileged countrymen.
In one of the most amazing falls from grace in modern political history, he was turned out of office just 18 months after the war, defeated by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.
Bush spent the first of his retirement years actively, golfing, fishing, playing horseshoes, parachuting with members of the military Golden Knights parachute team. He raised money for charities and fellow Republicans, foremost his two political sons. Nearing 80, he had to give up some of the more strenuous activities such as tennis and confessed that he sometimes found his mind growing “a little lazy” as he struggled to remember some things.
George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924, to Dorothy and Prescott Bush. His mother came from wealth — her family owned the nowfamous Walker’s Point land on the Maine coast — and his father was a banker who later served as a Republican senator from Connecticut.
His parents instilled in him two values he carried throughout his life: selflessness and service.
Bush also enjoyed a large and close-knit family. After his 3-year-old daughter, Robin, died of leukemia in 1953, Bush wrote of his loss in a letter to his mother with an eloquence he rarely revealed in public. “There was about her a certain softness,” he wrote. “Her peace made me feel strong, and so very important … but she is still with us. We need her and yet we have her. We can’t touch her, and yet we feel her.”
His sons George and Jeb later recalled that their dad always made time for them and family, even when he was president.
“My dad was president, but he was also a person motivated by his faith in God, by his love of family. That’s where his inner strength came from,” said Jeb Bush.
Added George W. Bush: “In spite of the fact that George Bush was always busy as president, he was always a great dad. … George Bush was a great president. But first and foremost, he was a great man.”
Former President George H.W. Bush is shown during his arrival on the South Lawn of the White House on May 11, 2008. Bush died at the age of 94 on Friday, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara. He served as vice president for eight years and president for four, from 1989 to 1993.
Vice President George H.W. Bush, his wife, Barbara, first lady Nancy Reagan and President Ronald Reagan attended the GOP National Convention in New Orleans, where Bush was nominated, in 1988.
Bush was captain of the Yale baseball team. He played in the first College World Series in 1947.
Former President George H.W. Bush, left, joins then President-elect Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office at the White House in 2009.
Former President George H.W. Bush, in 2007, free falls with Golden Knights parachute team member Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott, as he makes a dramatic entrance to his presidential museum during a rededication ceremony.