Re­spect for mas­ter of diplo­macy brings to­gether po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Dono­van Slack and Richard Wolf USA TO­DAY

WASH­ING­TON – Ge­orge H.W. Bush was her­alded Wed­nes­day as “Amer­ica’s last great sol­dier-states­man” be­fore about 3,000 mourn­ers who came to­gether across party lines at Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral to re­mem­ber the na­tion’s 41st pres­i­dent.

Ever the diplo­mat, the el­der Bush man­aged in death to bring to­gether the na­tion’s four liv­ing ex-pres­i­dents, as well as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the Repub­li­can he and his son Ge­orge W. Bush re­fused to sup­port two years ago. The gath­er­ing was at times awk­ward as Trump and his 2016 op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton, ig­nored each other.

The most touch­ing mo­ment came when the younger Bush, de­liv­er­ing the last of four eu­lo­gies, choked up re­call­ing “a great and no­ble man, and the best fa­ther a son or daugh­ter could have.” As the late pres­i­dent’s three other sons and daugh­ter looked on tear­fully, the au­di­ence burst into ap­plause for the only time dur­ing the cer­e­mony.

As an in­ter­gen­er­a­tional smat­ter­ing of Repub­li­cans and Democrats, lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives lis­tened in­tently, one speaker after an­other re­called qual­i­ties ar­guably in short sup­ply to­day: In­tegrity. Kind­ness. Dig­nity. Hu­mor. Em­pa­thy. Loy­alty. Gen­eros­ity. Truth.

“When the his­tory books are writ­ten, they will say that Ge­orge H.W. Bush was a great pres­i­dent of the United States, a diplo­mat of un­matched skill, a com­man­der in chief of for­mi­da­ble ac­com­plish­ment and a gen­tle­man who ex­e­cuted the du­ties of his of­fice with dig­nity and honor,” his son said. “He showed me what it means to be a pres­i­dent who serves with in­tegrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the cit­i­zens of our coun­try.”

Bush bi­og­ra­pher Jon Meacham told mourn­ers, “Ge­orge Her­bert Walker

Bush was Amer­ica’s last great sol­dier­states­man, a 20th-cen­tury found­ing fa­ther. He gov­erned with virtues that most closely re­sem­ble those of Wash­ing­ton and of Adams, of T.R. and of FDR, of Tru­man and of Eisen­hower, of men who be­lieved in causes larger than them­selves.”

Meacham spoke about the courage Bush showed in World War II when, as a 20-year-old naval avi­a­tor, he parachuted from a burn­ing plane over the Pa­cific Ocean. He alone lived to tell the tale; the rest of his crew per­ished.

“The rest of his life was a peren­nial ef­fort to prove him­self wor­thy of his sal­va­tion on that dis­tant morn­ing,” Meacham said. “To him, his life was no longer his own. There were al­ways more mis­sions to un­der­take, more lives to touch and more love to give.”

For­mer Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney re­called the in­tegrity with which Bush led the na­tion through the fall of the Soviet Union and Ber­lin Wall and the Gulf War.

“Let me tell you that when Ge­orge Bush was pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica, ev­ery sin­gle head of gov­ern­ment in the world knew they were deal­ing with a gen­tle­man, a gen­uine leader, one who was dis­tin­guished, res­o­lute and brave,” he said.

Speak­ers sin­gled out Bush’s be­lief in vol­un­teerism and his phrase “a thou­sand points of light,” which he turned into a non­profit group, the Points of Light Foun­da­tion.

The younger Bush said his fa­ther “strongly be­lieved that it was im­por­tant to give back to the com­mu­nity and coun­try in which one lived.”

“He rec­og­nized that serv­ing oth­ers en­riched the giver’s soul,” Bush said. “To us, his was the bright­est of a thou­sand points of light.”

For all the emo­tion, vir­tu­ally ev­ery speaker touched on Bush’s good hu­mor – even if, as for­mer U.S. Sen. Alan Simp­son said, he could never re­mem­ber a punch line. Meacham trig­gered laugh­ter by re­peat­ing for­mer “Satur­day Night Live” co­me­dian Dana Car­vey’s se­cret to im­per­son­at­ing Bush – a mix­ture of “Mr. Rogers try­ing to be John Wayne.”

He re­counted Bush’s re­la­tion­ship with his wife of 73 years, Bar­bara Bush, who died this year. To her hus­band, she was sim­ply “Bar,” or “the sil­ver fox,” or, at times, “the en­forcer.”

Bush’s grand­daugh­ters Jenna Bush Hager, Lau­ren Bush Lau­ren and Ash­ley Walker Bush de­liv­ered read­ings – Hager run­ning her hand across his flag-draped cof­fin as she walked back to her seat.

The at­mos­phere in the cav­ernous cathe­dral was of a somber re­union, where Wash­ing­ton’s movers and shak­ers from a by­gone era joined cur­rent of­fice­hold­ers. Trump and first lady Me­la­nia Trump were among the last to ar­rive, join­ing Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton and Jimmy and Ros­alynn Carter in the front pew.

Out­side, a crowd gath­ered across the street.

Karine Harja of Vir­ginia cra­dled her sleep­ing daugh­ter in one arm and held an Amer­i­can flag in the other.

“He was the first pres­i­dent I re­mem­ber,” said Harja, whose hus­band is in the Air Force. “I was a child dur­ing the Gulf War, and I re­mem­ber my par­ents cov­er­ing my eyes when the news was on.

“It didn’t feel right to be so close and not be here.”


Pres­i­dent Trump and Me­la­nia Trump pay their re­spects with Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton and Jimmy and Ros­alynn Carter.


Ge­orge W. Bush eu­lo­gizes “the best fa­ther a son or daugh­ter could have.”

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