Nation Bids Farewell to George H.W. Bush With Praise and Humor

President Trump and the 4 living ex-presidents attend the funeral
December 5, 2018 Updated: December 5, 2018

Former President George H.W. Bush was honored with a state funeral on Dec. 5 in the nation’s capital. President Donald Trump, former presidents, and world leaders gathered at Washington National Cathedral to bid their final farewell.

Bush died last week at 94 after battling multiple illnesses for several years, including the rare disease vascular parkinsonism.

He served as the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993. He was considered one of the most qualified candidates to assume the office, as he had a long career in both domestic politics and foreign affairs. Before his eight years as vice president to Ronald Reagan, he had been CIA director, and earlier served as U.N. ambassador and as an envoy to China.

During his presidency, he navigated the collapse of the Soviet Union and expelled former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.

His son, former President George W. Bush, delivered an emotional eulogy at the ceremony.

“Dad could relate to people from all walks of life. He was an empathetic man,” Bush said. “He valued character over pedigree. And he was no cynic. He looked for the good in each person and he usually found it.”

Bush told his father just before his death that he had been a “wonderful dad” and that he loved him. He said his father’s “last words on earth were ‘I love you, too.’”

Nearly 3,000 guests, including political leaders and family members, attended the service. Among the foreign dignitaries in attendance were Britain’s Prince Charles, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming also gave a tribute in honor of his late friend Bush, drawing laughter from the gathered political elite.

“He was a man of such great humility. Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic,” he said. He also said that while Bush loved a good joke, “he could never, ever remember a punchline. And I mean never.”

Near-Death Experience

Bush served as a Naval aviator who survived being shot down by Japanese forces over the Pacific Ocean in World War II. He was rescued by a U.S. submarine.

During the funeral, his biographer Jon Meacham, who wrote the book “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” delivered a moving speech, which started and ended with the former president’s near-death experience.

“The story was almost over even before it had fully begun,” Meachem said. “Through the ensuing decades, President Bush would frequently ask, nearly daily, he’d ask himself, “why me? Why was I spared?” And in a sense, the rest of his life was a perennial effort to prove himself worthy of his salvation on that distant morning.”

Trump Attended Service

President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and the four living ex-presidents attended the service. Taking his seat at the cathedral, Trump shook hands with his predecessor, former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Democratic former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 presidential election opponent, and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, shared the front pew with the Trumps and Obamas.

Trump had written on Twitter that he was “looking forward to being with the Bush family.”

“This is not a funeral, this is a day of celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life. He will be missed!” he wrote.

Trump declared Dec. 5 a national day of mourning in honor of the former president, and ordered the closure of federal offices.

‘Resolute and Brave’

Canadian former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney lauded Bush’s role in handling the end of the Cold War, and helping the delicate reunification of Germany.

Bush put together a U.S.-led international coalition that ousted invading Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 and was president when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

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

During his presidency, Bush focused much of his attention on foreign affairs, spending considerable time dealing with Iraq. He didn’t implement sweeping domestic programs or policies as he was constrained by a large budget deficit, limited federal revenue, and a Democratic-controlled Congress.

His most notable domestic achievements were the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Clean Air Act amendments.

An economy that was mired in recession cost Bush a second term. His victory over Iraq wasn’t enough to convince voters to give him a second term. When he ran for re-election in 1992, he was pilloried by Democrats and many Republicans for violating a famous 1988 campaign promise: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” He lost his bid for reelection to Bill Clinton.

Bush will be interred in a family plot at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, his daughter who died of leukemia in 1953 at the age of 3.

Before the service, the former president’s body lay in state beginning on Nov. 3 in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. Former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who’s 95, stood up from his wheelchair with the assistance of an aide in the Rotunda to salute the casket of Bush, his fellow World War II veteran.

Thousands of people filed past to pay their respects, some getting a chance to see Sully, a service dog who was Bush’s friendly companion. Sully became an internet sensation after being photographed lying next to his late master’s coffin.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Follow Emel on Twitter: @mlakan
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