While there are many accomplishments that George H.W. Bush achieved throughout his life, there can be little doubt that the outpouring of admiration, respect, and love that has burst forth like a torrent since his passing on November 30, 2018, has been especially poignant due to more than just respect for an office.
We are remembering a man that not only held the most important position in the world, but also consistently demonstrated genuine care for others and possessed a passionate love for life that imbued every aspect of his time as a soldier, a husband, a father, a leader, and a president.
Saying Goodbye to a Giant
As the last week has gone by, the U.S. has entered into a period of mourning for its lost leader.
All five living presidents — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump — honored the departed legend by attending his funeral, while the 41st president’s son immortalized his father through a eulogy that ended on a note that would have moved even the most hardened partisan to tears.
You can see the eulogy here:
Of course, we could never hope to deliver a more moving farewell as that from a son to his father.
However, we’ve decided to honor President Bush in our own small way, as a history publisher, by offering up this insufficiently brief overview outlining the life of a man who will no doubt continue to be remembered as a man for the ages.
The Early Years and World War II
George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924. At 18 years old, with World War II well under way, he enlisted into the military where he became the youngest pilot in the Navy.
Throughout the course of the war, the young soldier flew dozens of missions and was even shot down at one point, barely escaping capture, being picked up by a U.S. submarine before the nearby Japanese could reach him.
He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery during the ordeal.
Marriage and Starting a Career
After the war Bush didn’t slow down much, marrying Barbara Pierce in 1945 and starting their family a year later. Barbara and George H.W. Bush’s children, six in total, included the future President George W. Bush as well.
In addition to beginning his family, Bush also embarked on the journey to finish his education and kickstart a post-military career. He successfully attended Yale University before packing up his family and heading to Texas where he began to establish himself in the oil industry.
Entry into Politics
The Bush family was no stranger to politics before H.W. Bush began his historic political career. His father, Prescott Bush, had been a Senator from Connecticut in the 50s. But it wasn’t long before the son would eclipse his father’s temporarily ascendant star.
In his first major foray into politics, Bush failed to be elected to the Senate twice, though he did succeed at winning a seat in the House as a Representative from Texas for two terms.
During the 1970s Bush’s political career moved horizontally into a series of other high-profile offices that brought him all over the government ...and the world.
From 1971-1972 Bush was appointed to the position of Ambassador to the U.N., after which he spent time from 1973-1974 as the head of the Republican National Committee.
At this point, Jimmy Carter was elected president, and Bush returned to Texas, where he began planning out his first bid for president.
The following presidential race ended with Ronald Reagan being elected as the Republican Party’s candidate and Bush being chosen as the actor-turned-president’s second-in-command. Bush continued to serve as Vice President for two terms from 1981-1988.
During these years, Bush would travel more than a million miles as the Reagan administration’s representative.
President of the United States (1989-1993)
In 1988 Bush ran as the Republican candidate for office yet again and this time won by an absolute landslide, defeating Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis and becoming the first sitting Vice President to be elected president in over 150 years.
During George H.W. Bush’s presidency, he brought a “dedication to traditional American values” and a focus towards using those values to better the country by making it both kinder and gentler, even as the world was going through the first major shocks of the modern, Internet-aware, tech-driven era.
Bush also brought a focus, as seen right from his Inaugural Address (an address in which his first act as president was to pray!), that he wanted America to be seen as a force of good in a world that had recently been freed from the generations-old threat of Communism, dictatorship, and the Cold War.
The bulk of his administration was seen against the backdrop of the first president managing the post-Cold War world. It was he, rather than Reagan, who had to consolidate the U.S.’s power in a new world order where America was the sole superpower.
His time in office was also marked by Operation Desert Storm, in which Bush and the U.S. led a multi-nation effort to prevent Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
After the Presidency
While Bush served admirably during his time as president, he was still, unfortunately, the successor of the enormously popular Ronald Reagan, and that, combined with the natural swing of politics, as well as complicating factors like the success of third-party candidate Ross Perot, culminated with his time in office ending after a single term.
Following his loss to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election, Bush quietly and humbly stepped out of the limelight for a life of quiet retirement.
Nevertheless, George H.W. Bush’s accomplishments as president in the wake of the Cold War were quite impressive, even if the man to whom they belonged probably would not have said so without a bit of a convicted inner struggle, as well as his mother’s admonition “to avoid talking about himself” ringing in his head.
Over the last quarter of a decade, H.W. Bush has continued to remain a beloved and personable national icon, always coming across as an approachable and kind man and even going to extreme lengths to comfort those around him, such as the time he shaved his head to support a cancer-stricken boy.
A Man for the Ages
On April 17, 2018, George’s wife, Barbara Bush, died at the age of 92.
After the loss of his wife of more than seven decades, Bush spent the remainder of the year in and out of the hospital for various reasons. Finally, on November 30, 2018, at the age of 94, George H.W. Bush followed after Barbara.
His last words were “I love you, too,” spoken to his son, George, over the phone.
While Bush’s legacy as a leader is absolutely set in stone, there can be no doubt that he will be just as equally remembered for his love of tradition, honor towards his countrymen, and unrestrained love and respect for all of those that surrounded him.
There are few others who can claim to have held such supreme power in such humble hands.
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