A LIFE OF SERVICE
Tributes roll in for leader remembered as a humanitarian and statesman
Tributes from around the world poured in Saturday following the death of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, who died in Houston late Friday after decades as a public servant that set in motion an enduring family legacy. He was 94.
“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,” former Secretary of State James Baker said in a statement.
“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,” he 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 leader.”
Bush died peacefully at his
Houston home with Baker and several members of his extended family at his side. Other family members were on a 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.
Baker and other world leaders past and present on Saturday saluted Bush, the last president to have served in the military during World
War II and the last whose worldview had been shaped by the imperative to contain Communist expansionism. His experience in international diplomacy served him well as he dealt with the unraveling of the Soviet Union as an oppressive superpower, and later the rise of China as a commercial behemoth and potential partner.
As cautious and restrained as he was in foreign matters, Bush had an inclination for personal risk-taking that showed up early in his life, when he became a carrier pilot in the war — one of the most dangerous
jobs in the military — and then struck out on his own at war’s end, eschewing a comfortable job in New York to become an oilman in Texas.
Likewise, when his interest turned to politics a decade or so later, he was more than willing to give up his executive suite for a chance at public office.
Steeped in noblesse oblige and 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,
enjoying a roller-coaster career that 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, consensus building, 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 anew breed of Republicans and helped do in his re-election bid, sending him home to Houston in forced retirement.
“I think over the years he fares well,” said presidential historian Henry Brands, the 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.”
President George H.W. Bush responds to the crowd at Yale University graduation on May 27, 1991.