‘The bright­est of a thou­sand points of light’

Eu­logy: Ge­orge W. Bush hon­ors his fa­ther’s char­ac­ter, de­vo­tion to fam­ily Trib­utes: Speak­ers cel­e­brate ‘Amer­ica’s last great sol­dier-states­man’

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Noah Bier­man and Sarah D. Wire

In a state fu­neral that leav­ened pomp with hu­mor, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush was cel­e­brated Wed­nes­day as a man who melded char­ac­ter with self-dep­re­ca­tion — a states­man who man­aged the peace­ful end of the Cold War and pa­tri­arch of one of Amer­ica’s most suc­cess­ful po­lit­i­cal dy­nas­ties.

“To us, his was the bright­est of a thou­sand points of light,” said his son, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, in a fu­neral ser­vice at the Na­tional Cathe­dral in Wash­ing­ton — a ref­er­ence to his fa­ther’s oft-quoted call for vol­un­teerism.

“My hunch is heaven ... just got a bit kinder and gen­tler.”

— Rev. Dr. Rus­sell Leven­son Jr., rec­tor of St. Mar­tin’s Epis­co­pal Church in Hous­ton

“The last words he would ever say on earth were ‘I love you too.’”

— Ge­orge W. Bush

“An im­per­fect man, he left us a more per­fect union.”

— John Meacham, Ge­orge H. W. Bush’s bi­og­ra­pher

Amer­ica’s five liv­ing pres­i­dents were among the hun­dreds of dig­ni­taries and elected lead­ers, span­ning decades of pub­lic ser­vice, crowded into the pews to re­mem­ber Bush, a one-term pres­i­dent whose col­le­gial style and grace helped him be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar as the na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal chasm widened.

“He ac­cepted that fail­ure is a part of liv­ing a full life, but taught us never to be de­fined by fail­ure,” Ge­orge W. Bush said, chok­ing back tears at one point when re­call­ing his fa­ther’s de­vo­tion to his fam­ily.

Eu­lo­gies fo­cused on Bush’s com­pas­sion and for­eign pol­icy prow­ess, which deftly nav­i­gated the U.S. and its Euro­pean al­lies through the col­lapse of the Soviet Union and led an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion to re­verse Iraq’s 1991 in­va­sion of Kuwait.

“He stood in the breach of the Cold War against to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism. He stood in the breach in Wash­ing­ton against un­think­ing par­ti­san­ship,” said Jon Meacham, his bi­og­ra­pher, who de­liv­ered the first eu­logy. “On his watch, a wall fell in Berlin, a dic­ta­tor’s ag­gres­sion did not stand.”

Meacham called Bush, a naval avi­a­tor shot down dur­ing World War II, “Amer­ica’s last great sol­dier-states­man, a 20th-cen­tury found­ing fa­ther,” in the tra­di­tion of U.S. pres­i­dents who be­lieved in causes larger than them­selves.

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

The world’s most ex­clu­sive club — Pres­i­dents Don­ald Trump, Barack Obama, Ge­orge W. Bush, Bill Clin­ton and Jimmy Carter — all lis­tened with their wives, sit­ting to­gether in the front row. It marked the first time all had been to­gether since Trump was in­au­gu­rated in Jan­uary 2017, after a bit­ter cam­paign in which Trump had crit­i­cized nearly ev­ery one of them.

The large Bush fam­ily — in­clud­ing Jeb Bush, who served two terms as Flor­ida gov­er­nor and ran un­suc­cess­fully for pres­i­dent — laughed at the mem­o­ries of first lady Bar­bara Bush’s straight talk, cried in re­count­ing the death of sis­ter Robin at 3 years old and nod­ded in recog­ni­tion at the jokes about Bush’s love of off-color jokes and digs at his own ex­pense.

Trump was in­vited to at­tend, but in a break with

mod­ern tra­di­tion, was not of­fered a chance to speak. He was the first sit­ting pres­i­dent not to make the speak­ers’ pro­gram at the fu­neral of a pre­de­ces­sor since Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon failed to eu­lo­gize Lyn­don B. John­son in 1973.

Trump looked un­com­fort­able at times, sit­ting in the front row and rub­bing his hands be­tween his knees as speak­ers one by one praised Bush’s mod­esty, bi­par­ti­san spirit and fealty to multi­na­tion­al­ism.

He shook hands with the Oba­mas when he ar­rived, but avoided greet­ing ei­ther Pres­i­dent Clin­ton or Hil­lary Clin­ton, who stared straight ahead.

When Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush ar­rived a few min­utes later, he shook each of the pres­i­dents’ and first ladies’ hands, and ap­peared to sneak a piece of candy to Michelle Obama.

The el­der Bush “was a man of such great hu­mil­ity,” said former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simp­son, 87. “Those who trav­eled the high road of hu­mil­ity in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., are not both­ered by heavy traf­fic.”

In an­other im­plied re­buke of to­day’s Wash­ing­ton, Simp­son added that Bush un­der­stood that “ha­tred cor­rodes the con­tainer it is car­ried in.”

The sig­na­ture Bush slo­gans that some­times drew mock­ery from Trump and oth­ers dur­ing Bush’s own life — “a thou­sand points of light,” “a kinder, gen­tler” na­tion — were cel­e­brated as sin­cere re­flec­tions of his essence.

“My hunch is heaven, as per­fect as it must be, just got a bit kinder and gen­tler,” said the Rev. Dr. Rus­sell Leven­son Jr., rec­tor of St. Mar­tin’s Epis­co­pal Church in Hous­ton.

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

It was not just Bush’s old rhetoric that was given a nos­tal­gic re­boot. The pol­icy achieve­ments his eu­lo­gists chose to high­light demon­strated how much has changed in both the coun­try and the Repub­li­can Party that Bush and his fam­ily per­son­i­fied for half a cen­tury: the up­dat­ing of the Clean Air Act, the sign­ing of the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act, ne­go­ti­at­ing the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, as­sem­bling an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion to end Sad­dam Hus­sein’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Kuwait.

Simp­son even re­called how Bush broke his “read my lips” pledge and agreed to raise taxes, a de­ci­sion that was “surely one of the main fac­tors en­sur­ing his re­turn to pri­vate life.”

“I’ll never for­get it,” Simp­son said. “He said ‘What I have said on that sub­ject sure puts a hell of a lot of heat on me.’ ” His own party turned on him after that, Simp­son re­called.

Though Bush later ac­knowl­edged that his 1992 de­feat made him bit­ter and an­gry for a time, former Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney said that by 2001 — after Jeb Bush be­came gov­er­nor of Flor­ida and Ge­orge W. Bush won the pres­i­dency — the el­der Bush and former first lady found seren­ity. Mul­roney read from notes he made dur­ing a long pri­vate dis­cus­sion he had with the former pres­i­dent at the time, while vis­it­ing him at the fam­ily re­treat called Walker’s Point in Ken­neb­unkport, Maine.

“They are truly at peace with them­selves, joy­ous in what they and the chil­dren have achieved, grat­i­fied by the good­ness that God has be­stowed upon them all, and gen­uinely con­tent with the thrill and the prom­ise of each pass­ing day,” Mul­roney said.

Dur­ing the nearly twohour ser­vice, Clin­ton nod­ded when Ge­orge W. Bush noted how his fa­ther even­tu­ally be­came the un­like­li­est of men­tors for the Demo­cratic pres­i­dent who de­feated him, after both left of­fice and were fo­cused on their post-pres­i­den­cies.

And many in the room wept when the younger Bush re­counted speak­ing to his fa­ther on the phone Fri­day, shortly be­fore he died.

“I said ‘Dad, I love you and you’ve been a won­der­ful fa­ther,’ ” Ge­orge W. said. “And the last words he would ever say on earth were ‘I love you too.’ ”

After the ser­vice, Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s body was flown back to Texas. The former pres­i­dent will be laid to rest to­day along­side his wife, Bar­bara, and their daugh­ter, Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.


Former Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush touches the cas­ket of his fa­ther after de­liv­er­ing an emo­tional eu­logy Wed­nes­day.


From left, Pres­i­dent Trump and first lady Me­la­nia Trump, former Pres­i­dent Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, former Pres­i­dent Clin­ton and former Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton, and former Pres­i­dent Carter and former first lady Ros­alynn Carter.


A mil­i­tary honor guard car­ries the cas­ket of former Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush down the cen­ter aisle fol­low­ing the state fu­neral Wed­nes­day at the Na­tional Cathe­dral in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Pres­i­dent Trump and all liv­ing former pres­i­dents at­tended.


Former Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush pauses while hon­or­ing his fa­ther at the Na­tional Cathe­dral on Wed­nes­day.

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