President who ended Cold War dies at 94
‘41’ led nation through tumult of wars in lifetime of public service
George Herbert Walker Bush, the president who managed the end of the Cold War and forged a global coalition to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait, has died at age 94. In a political career that spanned three decades, he lost his bid for re-election and lived to see his son win the Oval Office.
The death of Bush — nicknamed “41” to distinguish himself from son George W. Bush, “43” — was announced in a statement released late Friday.
“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died,” his son, former President George W. Bush, said in a statement. “George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for. The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41’s life and love, for the compassion of those who have
cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”
Bush will lie in state from 7:30 p.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, congressional leaders announced Saturday. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will attend the funeral at the National Cathedral, and Wednesday will be declared a national day of mourning.
“There is no higher honor than to serve free men and women, no greater privilege than to labor in government beneath the Great Seal of the United States and the American flag.”
President George H.W. Bush
Bush bristled at the term “dynasty,” but his family defined the term. He was the son of a senator, Prescott Bush of Connecticut, and the father of Jeb Bush, the two-term governor of Florida, and George W. Bush, the two-term governor of Texas who went on to win two terms as president. Only the founding Adams family, John and John Quincy, can also claim both father and son as presidents.
The elder Bush entered the Oval Office with the longest political resume of any president in modern times: Congressman. United Nations ambassador. Republican national chairman. U.S. liaison to China. Director of the CIA. When he lost the GOP presidential nomination in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, the former California governor offered him the vice presidency, a role he filled for eight years
“He’ll be admired for ending the Cold War on terms that Americans never could have dreamt possible . ... It would not have happened if George Bush hadn’t been there.” Michael Beschloss Presidential historian
before winning the top job himself in 1988 over Democrat Michael Dukakis.
Bush’s bid for a second term in 1992 was rebuffed by voters who weren’t convinced he understood the economic anxieties in their lives.
Bush moved home to Houston, where he and Barbara became familiar figures at Astros games, restaurants and fundraising galas. He oversaw the building of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the grounds of Texas A&M, in College Station. And he determinedly rejected efforts to analyze his role in history, declining even to write the sort of memoir that has become the lucrative last word for past presidents.
“I don’t want anyone to pay attention to me,” he told USA TODAY in 1997. “I’m confident that historians from one perspective or another are going to write and say what they think and then there’ll be a merge of a judgment of our administration.”
He added with a smile: “I think history’s going to be relatively kind.”
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss agreed.
“Especially after his presidency, Bush came to be seen as a real human being and, instinctively, Americans felt good about him,” he said.
Man in a hurry
Bush was born in Milton, Mass., on June 12, 1924, into a family of entitlement, energy and public service.
On the day he turned 18, Bush graduated from Phillips Academy Andover and enlisted in the Navy, little more than six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Less than a year later, when he was still 18, he received his wings and officer’s commission. He was believed to be the Navy’s youngest pilot.
For the next two years, Bush flew torpedo bombers off the USS San Jacinto. On Sept. 2, 1944, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire while on a bombing run in the Pacific. Bush bailed and was rescued by a submarine, but his two crewmembers were killed. Bush would later say he thought of them every day.
After the war, Bush was a man in a hurry. He married Barbara Pierce in 1945 and graduated in 1948 with a degree in economics from Yale, where he was also captain of the baseball team. The couple and son Georgie, then a toddler, moved to the Oil Patch in Odessa, Texas, to seek his fortune. He started as a salesman of oil field equipment for a company owned by a friend of his father, then founded an oil company of his own.
They would have six children in all: George, Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Doro. Robin died at age 3 of leukemia, a loss that would reverberate through their lives. Decades later, her portrait was still hanging in a corner of her parents’ living room.
Barbara Bush died at their Houston home on April 17 after a long battle with congestive heart failure. Her husband of 73 years, the longest presidential marriage in history, was holding her hand.
Bush lost his first political campaign, for a U.S. Senate seat in 1964, but he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966. He was re-elected two years later and then lost a second campaign for the Senate in 1970.
President Richard Nixon appointed Bush ambassador to the United Nations and then drafted him to chair the Republican National Committee during the Watergate scandal. After Nixon resigned, President Gerald Ford named him chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China and then director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
In 1980, with some reluctance after a tough primary campaign, Reagan picked Bush as his running mate. After eight years as vice president, he won the job he had long wanted.
Bush’s background in national security and his relationships with foreign leaders – forged during his tenure at the UN and the CIA and in China – prepared him for dealing with a world teetering on the precipice of dramatic change. A year after he was elected, on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Then the Soviet Union unraveled and its former satellites embraced democratic revolutions.
“He’ll be admired for ending the Cold War on terms that Americans never could have dreamt possible for the 45 years of the Cold War,” Beschloss says. “It would not have happened if George Bush hadn’t been there . ... He formed a relationship with (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev of trust that encouraged Gorbachev to give up a lot of concessions.”
The ultimate test of Bush’s foreignpolicy leadership came after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. Three days later, returning from Camp David, Bush told reporters waiting for him on the South Lawn: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”
Bush agonized over his decision to send American troops into combat, then assembled a 30-nation coalition to oust Iraq in what became Operation Desert Storm. After weeks of bombarding Iraqi forces by air, the allies moved in on the ground and, in days, liberated Kuwait.
Bush championed important domestic legislation on domestic policy. He signed the Americans With Disabilities Act, which paved new ground for providing access and job protections to people with handicaps, and a significant revision of the Clean Air Act.
Most memorable – and most damaging politically – was his decision to embrace a budget agreement in 1989 that included an increase in several existing taxes. That broke the promise he had made in his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention.
“Read my lips,” he had said to cheers. “No new taxes.”
Four years later, dogged by questions over how much he knew about the IranContra affair and hampered by an independent campaign run by fellow Texan H. Ross Perot, he was defeated for a second term by Bill Clinton.
Bush went skydiving again to mark his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays. But his battle with vascular Parkinsonism robbed him of his ability to walk, and in recent years made it increasingly difficult for him to speak more than a few words at a time.
“Life goes on with all its mystery and wonder,” he wrote in his diary on Sept. 2, 1988. “I want to live to do good things and partly to meet the challenges that lie ahead, but I don’t fear death.”
Contributing: Aamer Madhani and Kirk Bado
George H.W. Bush was the son of a senator and the father of a president.