Bush final farewell takes on personal, distinctly Texas feel
HOUSTON — More than a thousand friends and aides said farewell to George H.W. Bush at a Houston funeral Thursday, punctuated by tears, hugs and yet more pointed references to the restraint and kindness he projected in a time when such virtues were celebrated in presidents.
The 41st president was buried hours later on the grounds of his presidential library at Texas A&M University, after the memorial service at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, where he and his wife of 73 years had long worshipped.
“He possessed the classic virtues of our civilization and of his faith,” James Baker, his secretary of state during an era of transformation in the world order, said in his eulogy. “George Bush was temperate in thought, in word and in deed. He considered his choices and then he chose wisely.”
“His incredible service to our nation and the world are already etched into the marbles of time,” he continued, recounting Bush’s stints as an 18-year-old Navy pilot in World War II, and later as a congressman, ambassador to China and the United Nations, director of the CIA, then vice president and president.
“He had the courage of a warrior,” Baker said. “But when the time came for prudence, he always maintained the greater courage of the peacemaker.”
Bush died at his home in Houston on Nov. 30 at age 94 after years of deterioration from a form of Parkinson’s disease.
More than 11,000 people waited for hours overnight to pay respects to Bush as he lay in repose at the family’s church. Thousands more had lined up as he lay in state in the Capitol rotunda before a state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday that brought together all living presidents.
Many of those eulogies included implicit — and sometimes explicit — rebukes of the current chief executive, Donald Trump, who has shunned advice from predecessors and kept his distance even as they shared a pew.
Such friction and drama were absent in Houston, where George W. Bush was the only living president.
Final train ride
After the service, a special Union Pacific train painted to resemble Air Force One carried his casket and members of his family 70 miles, past thousands of onlookers, to his final resting place at the Bush presidential library at Texas A&M University.
A military honor guard lifted the casket from the hearse upon arrival in College Station. With intermittent rain hitting Bush’s adopted and beloved home state, the flag draping the casket was covered in plastic.
A military band played ruffles and flourishes and “Hail to the Chief” one final time for the former commander in chief, then the national anthem. Navy fighter jets roared overhead, 21 of them, the final pass in a missing man formation — a high honor for a lost comrade.
His burial plot was beside his wife, Barbara, who died in April, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.
The honor guard carried the casket, the family following, along a winding path beside a lake before a private burial. A 21-gun salute, a bugler’s mournful taps in the distance, then a final three-shot volley marked the end of several days of pomp and precision and pageantry.
Army Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard presented the flag, folded into a precise triangle, to Dorothy Bush Koch, daughter and sister of presidents.
Hours earlier at the Houston church, Gov. Greg Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively, sat in the front row across the aisle from the Bush family.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former California governor, and Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, were on hand, as was former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
The state funeral Wednesday included world leaders, the current and former presidents and vice presidents, and luminaries from the Bush administration. But there are only so many seats even in that grand cathedral, and the Bushes had a famously enormous Christmas card list that included friends, business associates, and a vast and ever-expanding political network.
Invitations to the Houston service went to anyone west of the Mississippi, said Jim McGrath, an aide to the late president.
The large Bush family began filing in shortly before 10 a.m. George W. Bush took his seat on the center aisle in the front after greeting friends on the way, one with a hug.
Honorary pallbearers, including George P. Bush and other grandsons, led a procession that included candles, a cross, and flags of Texas and the United States. A military honor guard carried the flag-draped casket and placed it on the bier, a few feet from George W. Bush.
‘Honor of a lifetime’
George P. Bush also delivered a eulogy Thursday, recalling his “Gampy” as “the most gracious, most decent, most humble man that I will ever know. … It’s the honor of a lifetime to share his name.”
He recalled a letter Bush wrote to his grandchildren lamenting that he hadn’t gotten to spend as much time one summer with them as he would have liked.
“‘I think of you all an awful lot. I just wonder how each of you is doing in school and in life,’” Bush said his grandfather wrote. “He often spoke about the timeless creed of duty and country. This wasn’t just something he talked about. This was something he lived.”
One of the former president’s favorite country acts, the Oak Ridge Boys, performed “Amazing Grace.”
The group first sang for him when he was vice president. “He said, ‘Fellas’ — he always called us fellas — ‘would you sing me a few songs?’” one of the Boys told the congregation. “He fancied himself to be a good bass singer. He was not.”
Reba McEntire sang “The Lord’s Prayer.”
At both funerals, Bush was remembered for his integrity, devotion to public service, and civility.
And despite losing re-election with the lowest share of votes of any president seeking a second term, in a three-way contest with Bill Clinton and Dallas billionaire Ross Perot, he also was recalled as a commander in chief who guided the nation through an especially turbulent time.
The Soviet Union collapsed. Germany reunified, a development initially feared by France and others.
“George Bush could have claimed victory for the West, for America and frankly for himself,” Baker said Thursday. “But he understood that humility for, and not humiliation of, an adversary” would yield better results.
And so Germany unified as a NATO member, and “thus the Cold War ended not with a bang but with the sound of a halyard ... as the flag of the Soviet Union was lowered for the very last time.”
Bush cobbled together a coalition to drive Iraq out of Kuwait after Saddam Hussein’s invasion, and then to end the conflict when that mission was accomplished. He ended wars in Central America, signed two arms reduction treaties, and brought Israel and its neighbors together to talk peace.
Bush welcomed his honest input, Baker recalled, even when he disagreed with it. “But he had a very effective way of letting me know when the discussion was over. He’d say, ‘Baker if you’re so smart, why am I the president and you’re not?’ He was a leader, and he knew it.”
Baker kept his composure until the end of his 10-minute eulogy, and he cried afterward while hugging George W. Bush.
Baker and the Bushes’ pastor, Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson Jr., rector of St. Martin’s church, were with both George and Barbara Bush when they died.
Levenson’s voice, too, cracked with emotion during his homily.
“George Bush was never afraid to shed tears and so today I bid you to follow his example,” he’d said. “Give thanks that his life brushed up against yours.”
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