Former President George Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush were married longer than any other presidential couple. Their kind of love is forever. USA TODAY
This Saturday, April 21, 2018, photo provided by the Office of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, shows Bush, front center, and past presidents and first ladies Laura Bush, from left, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and current first lady Melania Trump in a group photo at the funeral service for former first lady Barbara Bush, in Houston. Barbara Bush died Tuesday, April 17. She was 92.(Photo: Paul Morse, Courtesy of Office of George H.W. Bush via AP)
HOUSTON — 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 released by family spokesman Jim McGrath. “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’s death comes months after the passing of his wife of 73 years, Barbara. The former first lady died in April.
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 and primary foe offered him the vice presidency, a role he filled for eight years before winning the top job himself in 1988 over Democrat Michael Dukakis.
But 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, choosing Bill Clinton instead.
George Bush moved home to Houston, where he and wife Barbara became familiar figures at Astros games, local restaurants and fundraising galas for cancer research, literacy and other favored causes. 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 said in an interview with USA TODAY in 1997, a few days after he parachuted out of an airplane, just to prove that, at age 73, he could. “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.
The coarsening of the American political debate and the fierce polarization of Washington in recent years has created among some a nostalgia for the Bush era. His presidential campaigns were hard-fought and sometimes negative, but it was still a time when bipartisanship wasn’t seen as a distant memory. In recent years, the rise of Donald Trump tested Bush’s lifelong allegiance to the Republican Party: In 2016, he cast his presidential ballot for Hillary Clinton.
Man in a hurry
Bush was born in Milton, Mass., on June 12, 1924, into a family of entitlement, energy and public service. His mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, was a particular force throughout his life. Barbara Bush once called her mother-in-law the most competitive person she had ever met, albeit one who warned her brood against bragging about themselves.
On the day he turned 18 years old, Bush both 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, believed to be the Navy’s youngest pilot.
For the next two years, with World War II at its peak, Bush flew torpedo bombers off the USS San Jacinto. On Sept. 2, 1944, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire while he was 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. He and Bar 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 ultimately 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 had first gotten involved in politics as chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, in Houston. He lost his first political campaign, for a 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, a mostly thankless task. After Nixon resigned from office, President Gerald Ford named Bush 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, Ronald Reagan selected Bush to be his running mate. After eight years as vice president, he won the job he had long wanted.
Bush was not Reagan, especially when it came to public affection and communications skills. But his 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 that was 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.”
There would be other foreign crises: a famine in Somalia, the seizure of Panama’s corrupt leader Manuel Noriega and the Gulf War. The ultimate test of Bush’s foreign-policy 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. “I shall say a few more prayers, mainly for our kids in the Gulf, and I shall do what must be done,” he wrote in a letter to his children on Dec. 30, 1990.
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Former President George H.W. Bush, and his son, former President George W. Bush, leave St. Martin’s Episcopal Church following the funeral of Barbara Bush in Houston. Jasper Colt, USA TODAY
Former President George H.W. Bush, pushed by his son and former president George W. Bush, exits the funeral for his wife Barbara Bush at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. Jack Gruber, USA TODAY
The George H.W. Bush Monument in Sesquicentennial Park in downtown Houston on April, 20, 2018. Jack Gruber, USA TODAY
Former President George H. W. Bush looks at the casket with his daughter Dorothy “Doro” Bush Koch as they wait for the mourners during the visitation of former first lady Barbara Bush at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church on April 20, 2018, in Houston. Mark Burns, Pool Photo
Former President George H.W. Bush acknowledges the crowd at his presidential library on Nov. 11, 2014 before his son former President George W. Bush discusses his new book “41: A Portrait of My Father” in College Station, Texas. Bob Daemmrich, pool photo
Former president George H.W. Bush wears a neck brace at his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 30, 2015. Office of George H. W. Bush via AP
Former presidents George H. W. Bush, right, and George W. Bush before the Houston Texans NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers in Houston on Oct. 25, 2009. Dave Einsel, AP
Former president George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush speak before the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Houston on March 29, 2015. David J. Phillip, AP
Former president George H.W. Bush waves as he arrives at NRG Stadium before the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game between Villanova and Oklahoma in Houston on April 2, 2016. David J. Phillip, AP
Former president George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, are greeted before a Republican presidential primary debate at the University of Houston on Feb. 25, 2016. David J. Phillip, AP
Former president George H.W. Bush talks with Houston Texans owner Bob McNair before the first half of an AFC Wild Card NFL game between the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders on Jan. 7, 2017, in Houston. Eric Christian Smith, AP
Former president George Bush grimaces as he rubs his knee while he and former first lady Barbara Bush leave the field after she threw the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park in Boston on Aug. 10, 2005. Elise Amendola, AP
President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara wave to the crowd at the end of the Republican National Convention on Aug. 20, 1992, in Houston. Tim Dillon, USA TODAY
Former president George H.W. Bush in his office in Houston on, March 29, 2012. Larry W. Smith, European Pressphoto Agency
President Obama presents former president George H.W. Bush with the 2010 Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House Feb. 15, 2011, in Washington. Obama presented the medal to 12 pioneers in sports, labor, politics and arts. Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
Former president George H.W. Bush flipped the coin for the kickoff between the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on Oct. 30, 2016, in Houston. Bob Levey, Getty Images
Former president George H.W. Bush watches the pregame warmup of the Houston Texans before their game against the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Wild Card game at NRG Stadium on Jan. 7, 2017, in Houston. Bob Levey, Getty Images
Vice President Bush tosses a football back to members of the traveling press corps after arriving in Houston on Nov. 7, 1988. Eric Gay, AP
Vice President George H.W. Bush during a visit to Phoenix in June 1981. The Arizona Republic
President Bush and former president George H.W. Bush ride their golf cart to the first hole at the Cape Arundel Golf Course in Kennebunkport, Maine, on June 13, 2003. Susan Walsh, AP
Barbara Bush talks with former president George H.W. Bush during the fourth inning of an baseball game between the Florida Marlins and Houston Astros on April 8, 2011, in Houston. Dave Einsel, AP
Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara arrive at the Houston Astros baseball game against the Colorado Rockies on opening day April 6, 2012, in Houston. Pat Sullivan, AP
Former president George H.W. Bush, arrives on the South Lawn of White House on May 11, 2008. Lawrence Jackson, AP
Vice President George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush wave before boarding a plane during a visit to Phoenix in September 1985. The Arizona Republic
George H.W. Bush arrives aboard Air Force One on Dec. 26, 2008, in Waco, Texas. Evan Vucci, AP
President-elect George H.W. Bush arrives at the White House on Nov. 10, 1988, in Washington. Charles Tasnadi, AP
Former president George H.W. Bush receives a kiss from his wife, Barbara, as they arrive for the premiere of an HBO documentary on his life June 12 near the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Charles Krupa, AP
President Obama presents the 2010 Medal of Freedom to former president George H.W. Bush on Feb. 15, 2011, at the White House. Tim Sloan, AFP/Getty Images
Former president George H.W. Bush watches as his son, former president George W. Bush, throws the ceremonial first pitch of Game 4 of the World Series baseball game between the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants on Oct. 31, 2010, in Arlington, Texas. H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY
Former president George H.W. Bush rides tandem with U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Elliott of the Golden Knights parachute team as he celebrates his 85th birthday on June 12, 2009, in Kennebunkport, Maine. Robert F. Bukaty, AP
Former president George H.W. Bush, left, and President-elect Barack Obama listen as President George W. Bush speaks in the Oval Office on Jan. 7, 2009, in Washington. Pool photo by Ron Sachs
Former presidents George H.W. Bush, left, and his son, George W. Bush, watch the warm-ups before an NFL football game between the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 25, 2009, in Houston. Pat Sullivan, AP
Bush is greeted by French President Jacques Chirac at the Elysee Palace on May 1, 2006, in Paris. Christophe Ena, AP
Former president George H. W. Bush laughs before speaking at a breakfast event on Oct. 6, 1999 at a bookstore in Greenwich, Conn. Eileen Blass, USA TODAY
George Bush and President Bill Clinton gaze skyward as they watch the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team arrive during the dedication of the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, on Nov. 6, 1997. Susan Walsh, AP
Bush gets some guidance from his wife, Barbara, as they clean a vacant lot along Germantown Avenue during the President’s Summit on America’s Future on April 27, 1997, in Philadelphia. Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY
Former secretary of State James Baker, left, and George H.W. Bush talk during the opening of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy Annual Conference on Nov. 13, 1995, at Rice University in Houston. Pat Sullivan, AP
President Bush greets the crowd after a Sept. 22, 1992 rally at the airport in Longview, Texas. Ron Heflin, AP
President Bush delivers a speech in Washington on May 6, 1992. Marcy Nighswander, AP
President Bush delivers his State of the Union message before a Joint Session of Congress on Jan. 28, 1992, in Washington. Ron Edmonds, AP
President Bush holds the badge of slain New York City patrolman Eddie Byrne during a speech at Attorney General Dick Thornburgh’s anti-crime summit on March 5, 1991, in Washington. Marcy Nighswander, AP
President Bush speaks at the White House on Dec. 14, 1990 in Washington, D.C. Bush said he had offered 15 dates for Secretary of State James A. Baker III to visit Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on or prior to January 12, three days before a United Nations deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Barry Thumma, AP
French President Francois Mitterrand, left, and President Bush talk at the Place du Trocadero on July 1989 in Paris. Martin Cleaver, AP
President Bush smiles after throwing a golf ball to a group people on the 5th hole at the Casparilla Golf Club on Nov. 14, 1992 in Boca Grande, Fla. Dennis Cook, AP
Children from Emerson Elementary School watch President Bush on a television in their classroom during a September 1989 broadcast in Arizona. The Arizona Republic
George H. W. Bush is sworn in as the 41st president on Jan. 20, 1989 in Washington, D.C. Tim Rogers, The Arizona Republic
President-elect George Bush is greeted by President Ronald Reagan at the White House on Nov. 10, 1988, in Washington. Charles Tasnadi, AP
President-elect George H. W. Bush fishes in the surf on Nov. 14, 1989 in Florida. Robert Sullivan, AFP/Getty Images
Vice President George H. W. Bush visits the Estrella Tortilla Factory during a June 1987 visit to Phoenix, Ariz. The Arizona Republic
Vice President George H. W. Bush tosses a football presented to him by Notre Dame Head coach Lou Holtz on Nov. 4, 1986 in South Bend, Ind. Scott Applewhite, AP
A 1950 photograph shows Barbara Bush, left, her husband, George H.W. Bush, and their son, George W. Bush, Dorothy Walker Bush and her husband, Prescott S. Bush, at the Odessa airport in Texas. The Bush family album
U.S. Navy pilot George H.W. Bush sits in his aircraft nicknamed “Barbara” during World War II. Bush served as an aviator in the U.S. Navy from August 1942 to September 1945. NONE XXX NONE
Babe Ruth, left, presents Yale baseball captain George H.W. Bush with the original manuscript of “The Babe Ruth Story” at Yale Field on June 5, 1948, in New Haven, Conn. Don Holston, AP
George H.W. Bush in his Yale University baseball uniform in New Haven, Conn. Bush was the first baseman on the Yale team that lost to California in the first College World Series in Kalamazoo, Mich. in 1947. AP
He 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.
Although he was criticized later for not removing Saddam from power, the war would be the pinnacle of Bush’s authority and popularity. But that turned out to be a double-edged sword. During his re-election campaign, some voters saw Bush as a chief executive who focused on foreign policy at the expense of concerns at home.
Bush did champion important legislation on domestic policy, at times at odds with the conservative orthodoxy of his party. 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 to him politically – was his decision to embrace a budget agreement in 1999 that included an increase in several existing taxes. That broke the signature promise he had made in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 1988.
“Read my lips,” he had said to cheers. “No new taxes.”
‘We’ve kept the faith’
Four years later, Bush couldn’t quite believe he was going to be defeated by Bill Clinton, a Baby Boomer who had dodged the draft during Vietnam and who was being blistered by allegations of marital infidelity.
But Clinton made the economy his weapon. In fact, the nation’s economy was technically in a recovery, but it didn’t feel that way to many Americans. Lingering questions over how much Bush as vice president knew about the Iran-Contra affair also dogged him, and the special counsel investigating the Reagan administration scandal indicted former Defense secretary Caspar Weinberger days before the election. The decision by an eccentric fellow Texan, H. Ross Perot, to wage an on-again, off-again independent campaign didn’t help.
White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater and other aides also wondered if Bush’s bouts with a thyroid disorder and irregular heartbeat undermined the zest he showed for campaigning four years earlier.
“We have fought the good fight,” Bush told his supporters on Election Night, “and we’ve kept the faith.”
Later, he would become close to the man who denied him a second presidential term. At the request of George W. Bush, his father and Clinton worked together to raise money for victims of an Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Barbara Bush later said that Clinton grew to see her husband “as the father he never had.”
After he left the White House, Bush often said that his main occupation was grandparenting. He and Barbara Bush had 17 of them, and seven great-grandchildren by the time they had died. Many in the Bush clan congregated every summer at Walker’s Point, the family’s seaside compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, for fishing, games of tennis and horseshoes and rides on the fast speedboats that Bush favored.
In a 2004 interview with USA TODAY, just before his 80th birthday, Bush cited a Thomas Jefferson quote: “There is a fullness of time when men should go, and not occupy too long the ground to which others have a right to advance.”
“It’s exactly the way I feel about it,” the former president said. “I had my chance.”
Bush remained an athlete well into his 80s. He 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, 44 years after he had been shot down in combat, and two months before he would win the presidency. “I want to live to do good things and partly to meet the challenges that lie ahead, but I don’t fear death.”
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George and Barbara Bush cut their wedding cake in Rye, New York on Jan. 6, 1945. George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
George Bush, candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, gets returns by phone at his headquarters in Houston, along with his wife Barbara, on June 6, 1964. Ed Kolenovsky, AP
Republican Senatorial candidate George Bush shows a victory sign as he and his wife Barbara stand in front of a vote machine November 3, 1964 in Houston. AP
George H.W. Bush sits on couch with his wife Barbara and their children. George W. Bush sits at right behind his mother. Behind the couch are Neil and Jeb Bush. Sitting with parents are Dorothy and Marvin Bush. AP
U.S. Vice President George H. W. Bush, right, and his wife Barbara Bush pose in front of the Taj Mahal on May 13, 1984. Sondeep Shankar, AP
President and Mrs. George Bush return to the White House on March 12, 1989 from their weekend at Camp David. Their dog Millie, left, is expecting to give birth to puppies within a week or so. Dennis Cook, AP
President George Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush and their dog Millie taken Dec. 1987. Tim Dillon, USA TODAY
George H. Bush and Barbara Bush wave as balloons are dropped during a welcome rally in Houston, Nov. 8, 1988. John Duricka, AP
President George H.W. Bush and wife, Barbara dance at the inaugural ball at the Pension Building in Washington, on Friday, Jan. 20, 1989. Scott Applewhite, AP
Former President George Bush hugs his wife, Barbara, after his address during the dedication of the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, on Nov. 6, 1997. Pat Sullivan, AP
President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bus walk their dog Millie in Kennebunkport, Maine on Feb. 19, 1990. Dennis Cook, AP
President George Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush as they shake hands with members of the crowd at a “Bush/Quayle 92” rally on the steps of the Mississippi State Capitol on March 6, 1992. Luke Frazza, AFP/Getty Images
Former President George Bush gets some guidance from his wife, Barbara, in a vacant lot where they pitched in to clean along Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia on April 27, 1997. Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY
Former President George H.W. Bush and wife, Barbara, arrive at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009, for the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Ron Edmonds, AP
In this March 29, 2015, file photo, former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush, left, speak before a college basketball regional final game between Gonzaga and Duke, in the NCAA basketball tournament in Houston. A family spokesman said on April 15, 2018, that the former first lady Barbara Bush is in “failing health” and won’t seek additional medical treatment. David J. Phillip, AP
Barbara Bush talks with former president George H. W. Bush during a major league baseball game between the San Diego Padres and Houston Astros on April 17, 2011, in Houston. Dave Einsel, AP
Former President George Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush acknowledge fans before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park in Boston, on Aug. 10, 2005. Elise Amendola, AP
President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, Minn. on Sept. 2, 2008. Steve Elfers, USA TODAY
From left, former President Bill Clinton, former President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush stand for the National Anthem at the Kennedy Center on March 21, 2011, in Washington, before the “All Together Now – A Celebration of Service” performance in honor of former President George H. W. Bush. Carolyn Kaster, AP
Former President George H. W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush chat at a ceremony to unveil a new garden named in Barbara’s honor on Sept 29, 2011, in Kennebunkport, Maine. Robert F. Bukaty, AP
Former first lady Barbara Bush touches the hair of her husband President George H.W. Bush as they arrive for the premiere of HBO’s new documentary on his life near the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine on June 12, 2012. Charles Krupa, AP
Former president George H.W. Bush, right, and his wife, Barbara, are greeted before a GOP primary debate at the University of Houston on Feb. 25, 2016. David J. Phillip, AP
Former President George H.W. Bush tosses the coin as his wife, Barbara, watches before the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots on Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston. David J. Phillip, AP
The casket is placed next to former President George H.W. Bush during the funeral for former First Lady Barbara Bush at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. Jack Gruber, USA TODAY
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