The man I sim­ply called ‘Gampy’

Our won­der­ful, com­pet­i­tive fam­ily saw his per­sonal good­ness that led to his his­tor­i­cal great­ness

USA TODAY US Edition - - OPINION - Ge­orge P. Bush

The man I sim­ply called “Gampy” was known to the world as Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush. And he was the most gra­cious, most de­cent and most hum­ble man I will ever know. In fact, he would tell you how blessed he was and how thank­ful he was for each bless­ing.

My grand­fa­ther was thank­ful for his fam­ily.

He would wake up about 5 a.m. to re­view se­cu­rity brief­ings and grab his first cof­fee of the day. When the coast was clear, all the grand­kids would do our best to snag a spot on his bed with Ganny, while they read the paper.

We all grew up in awe of our grand­fa­ther — a larger-than-life fig­ure fly­fish­ing off the rocks in Maine. He’d be the first to host in­tense horse­shoe matchups be­tween fam­ily and se­cret ser­vice, or any will­ing head of state, while en­cour­ag­ing trash talk like “power out­age” if you were short on your throw, or “Woodrow Wil­son” if you were long. His typ­i­cal spread in­cluded bar­be­cue, tacos or pork rinds with hot sauce — of course with a healthy dose of Blue Bell ice cream. Al­ways the com­peti­tor, each night closed with Gampy chal­leng­ing us to the cov­eted “first asleep” award.

In clas­sic Gampy fash­ion, he’d write let­ters of en­cour­age­ment — whether one of us had a hard se­mes­ter, one of us (not me) drove his boat Fidelity into the rocks, or one of us (def­i­nitely not me) ended up in Ganny’s crosshairs.

‘Prom­ise this old gamp­ster’

At the close of one sum­mer, after he had left pub­lic ser­vice, Gampy emailed all of us: “The only thing wrong with the last five months is that none of you were here enough. Next year, prom­ise this old gamp­ster that you will spend more time with us here by the sea. As you know, I have had to give up fly-fish­ing off the rocks, but there is plenty left to do — plenty of won­der­ful things. I think of all of you an aw­ful lot. I just won­der how each of you is do­ing — in life, in col­lege, in school. If you need me, I am here for you, be­cause I love you very much.”

In Psalm 91:16, God makes this prom­ise: “With long life, I will sat­isfy him and show him my sal­va­tion.” To­day, we know that Gampy did en­joy a long life, and we know he is en­joy­ing the be­gin­ning of his next life with my Ganny and his beloved Robin.

My grand­fa­ther was thank­ful for his coun­try.

My grand­fa­ther was grate­ful to lead a coun­try where peo­ple can go as far, and as fast, as their dreams can take them; a coun­try that cel­e­brates in­di­vid­u­als alone or work­ing to­gether to im­prove the con­di­tion of their fel­low man on a vol­un­tary ba­sis — an ini­tia­tive he would later de­scribe as a “thou­sand points of light.”

He of­ten spoke about the time­less creed of “duty, honor, coun­try” that has sus­tained the re­pub­lic for more than 240 years. But this wasn’t some­thing he just talked about ... it was some­thing he lived. He flew 58 com­bat mis­sions in the Pa­cific, was shot down and res­cued at sea. Yet he never saw his own hero­ism as be­ing any greater than any­one else’s. I know this be­cause I ex­pe­ri­enced it per­son­ally. Gampy was so proud when my cousin Walker joined the Marines and I joined the Navy, and he was even prouder when we served over­seas. In no way did our ser­vice com­pare with his, yet we could never con­vince him of that.

A legacy of ser­vice

In our times to­gether, our big, won­der­ful and com­pet­i­tive fam­ily saw his per­sonal good­ness that led to his his­tor­i­cal great­ness. He left a sim­ple yet pro­found legacy to his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren and to our great coun­try — ser­vice to oth­ers. When the last word on Ge­orge H.W. Bush is writ­ten, it will al­most cer­tainly be this: The ful­fill­ment of a com­plete life can­not be achieved with­out ser­vice to oth­ers.

Fi­nally, my grand­fa­ther was thank­ful for his God.

Gampy once said: “God is good, but his love has a cost: We must be good to one an­other.” It was his faith and his love for oth­ers that drove him, that ful­filled him, and that led him to a call­ing in pub­lic life.

To­ward the end of his ser­vice as pres­i­dent, at a prayer break­fast here in Hous­ton, he re­flected on his time aboard the sub­ma­rine USS Fin­back after be­ing shot down dur­ing World War II — he went up top­side one night on the deck, stood watch and looked out at the dark. He said: “The sky was clear; the stars were bril­liant like a bliz­zard of fire­flies in the night. There was a calm in­ner peace. Half­way around the world in a war zone, there was a calm in­ner peace: God’s ther­apy.”

To­day, after 94 years, the heavy hand of time has claimed the life of my Gamps. But in death, as in life, my grand­fa­ther has won — for he has ex­changed his earthly bur­dens for a heav­enly home and is at peace.

Yes, the man I sim­ply called Gampy was the most gra­cious, most de­cent and most hum­ble man I will ever know. And it’s the honor of a life­time to share his name. God bless you, Gampy. Un­til we meet again.

Ge­orge P. Bush serves as the Texas Land Com­mis­sioner and is the old­est grand­son of for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

TED S. WAR­REN/AP

Ge­orge P. Bush with Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush in 2004.

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