Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Life and Funeral of George H.W. Bush Defines Leadership for a Nation that has Lost its Way

The funeral for George H.W. Bush takes place at a time when the nation's values are under siege from within. The Bush funeral calls us to remember what great American leadership looks like. In these dark times remembering a leader who is loving, humble, honest and self-effacing gives us reason to hope.

After lying in state at the US Capitol the coffin of the 41st president of the United States traveled by motorcade to Washington National Cathedral for his funeral and some final farewells. The touching 3 hour ceremony that ensued showcased a man of faith who believed in causes larger than himself.

The Bush funeral was a wonderful homage to a man that will be warmly embraced by history. Bush was an athlete, a war hero and an accomplished world leader. His decency and grit must be remembered for posterity. Let us remember that this is a man who called his boat the Fidelity and parachuted out of an airplane at 90. He possessed the integrity, character and virtue of a genuine leader whose service to the United States and the world shall not be soon forgotten. He was optimist whose humanity and humor made him accessible to everyone he met. His competitiveness, courage, pragmatism and discipline made him formidable. Above all his humility made him a leader for the ages.

Bush understood the gravity of responsibility first as a very young man who lost his crew-mates after his plane was shot down in the Pacific and later as a commander and chief who sent young men and women into battle in Kuwait and Iraq.

The tears that were shed at the funeral were not just because the nation was saying goodbye to a good man who had accomplished so much. Although unintended, a series of eloquent eulogies made us weep for the dearth of integrity and decency that now resides in the Oval Office.

The funeral was attended by a bipartisan group that included all the living presidents, members of Congress and even a couple of Supreme Court justices. The former presidents all sat in a row and at the end of that row there was one uncomfortable man that seemed out of place as he squirmed in his pew.

Speakers eloquently lauded the many admirable qualities of the 41st president. One can imagine that for Trump it may have been like a modern day version of Charles Dickens' 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. 

Here is a summary of excerpts of the eulogies and the homily that have immortalized Bush's leadership and the kind of man he was:  

Alan Simpson

Former senator Alan Simpson called Bush a "class act" and talked about his friendship and loyalty. "He never hated anyone," Simpson said. "He knew what his mother and my mother always knew: hatred corrodes the container it's carried in."

Simpson said Bush told him that when faced with tough choices, he chose "the country that I fought for” rather than choosing his party or his legacy. 

Simpson concluded by saying, "The most decent and honorable person I ever met was my friend, George Bush. One of nature’s noblemen."

Brian Mulroney

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney called Bush a, "model for anyone who wants to serve in public life."

Mulroney praised Bush's diplomatic skill calling the demise of the Soviet Union, "the most epical event, political event of the 20th century. An ominous situation that could have become extremely menacing to world security, was instead deftly challenged by the leadership of President Bush" He then quoted German Chancellor Kohl who said, "this historic initiative of German reunification could never, ever have succeeded without the brilliant leadership of President Bush."

Mulroney hailed Bush's achievement including NAFTA, but he could not help but take a shot at Trump adding that it had been "modernized and improved". Mulroney stressed how much Bush loved his children and how proud he was of their accomplishments.  He also praised him as a statesman saying:

"Fifty or 100 years from now, as historians review the accomplishments and the context of all who have served as president, I believe it will be said that in the life of this country, the United States — which is, in my judgment, the greatest democratic republic that God has ever placed on the face of this earth — I believe it will be said that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honorable than George Herbert Walker Bush." 

Jon Meachum

In his eulogy the Presidential historian and biographer Jon Meacham called Bush, "Strong and gracious, comforting and charming, loving and loyal, he was our shield in danger's hour". He also said Bush was, "an imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union,"

His life code was "Tell the truth. Don't blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course." And that was and is the most American of creeds. Abraham Lincoln's "better angels of our nature" and George H.W. Bush's "thousand points of light" are companion verses in America's national hymn. For Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the convenient, to hope rather than to fear, and to heed not our worst impulses, but our best instincts."

Meachum recalled a time in Poland when Bush visited a cancer ward and encountered a child suffering from the same form of leukemia that took his own child many years ago. He wept and in his diary he said that he hoped the little guy knew that he loved him.

"[Bush] made our lives and the lives of nations freer, better, warmer, and nobler....That was his mission. That was his heart beat. And if we listen closely enough, we can hear that heartbeat even now. For it's the heartbeat of a lion, a lion who not only led us, but who loved us."

George W.  Bush

Former president George W. Bush talked about his father's "enormous capacity to give of himself." and he called his dad a "generous and giving soul" He described him as a, "wonderful father" who was firm, principled, supportive, and encouraging. Bush jr spoke of his father's "unconditional love." He said that his father had "showed me what it means to be a president that serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country." He remembered his father as someone who "taught us how to grow old with dignity, humor, and kindness — and, when the good Lord finally called, how to meet him with courage and with joy in the promise of what lies ahead."

"Dad was always busy — a man in constant motion — but never too busy to share his love of life with those around him. He taught us to love the outdoors," the 43rd president said, adding, "Dad could relate to people from all walks of life. He was an empathetic man. He valued character over pedigree. And he was no cynic. He looked for the good in each person — and usually found it."

"Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary; that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values, like faith and family. He strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and country in which one lived. He recognized that serving others enriched the giver’s soul. To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light."

"In victory, he shared credit. When he lost, he shouldered the blame. He accepted that failure is part of living a full life, but taught us never to be defined by failure. He showed us how setbacks can strengthen."

"When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States — a diplomat of unmatched skill, a commander in chief of formidable accomplishment, and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor."

He quoted his father's Inaugural Address: “We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it. What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?"

"Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever. So, through our tears, let us see the blessings of knowing and loving you — a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have."


Some of the most telling insights into H.W. Bush can be found in a handwritten note he sent to former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano in 2009. Here is the full transcript of the letter:

“I cannot single out the one greatest challenge in my life. I have had a lot of challenges and my advice to young people might be as follows," the letter reads. "Don’t get down when your life takes a bad turn. Out of adversity comes challenge and often success. Don’t blame others for your setbacks. When things go well, always give credit to others. Don’t talk all the time. Listen to your friends and mentors and learn from them.Don’t brag about yourself. Let others point out your virtues, your strong points. Give someone else a hand. When a friend is hurting show that friend you care. Nobody likes an overbearing big shot As you succeed, be kind to people. Thank those who help you along the way. Don’t be afraid to shed a tear when your heart is broken because a friend is hurting. Say your prayers!!"


It was good to see current president Donald Trump, acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker along with Trump's lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani in attendance.

The country may have lost its way, but the life and funeral of former president Bush also shows the nation the way back home.

In his homily, the Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson, rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston said, "this is not the end of an era, it is an opportunity to fill the hole that was left behind".

There was profound sadness as the motorcade carrying the late president pulled away from Washington National Cathedral en route to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.  There is also hope as a nation remembers what noble leadership looks like.

A Life of Service: George H.W. Bush a Good Man and a Model President

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