Flags dropped to half-staff across the country and tributes piled high Saturday as the nation remembered President George H.W. Bush as a man of relentless public service and personal decency.
No. 41, as he was dubbed by his son, another president at No. 43, served as a congressman, as CIA director, as vice president and then one term as president, helping the world move from a Cold War footing to the more complex challenges that followed.
Words like “statesman” and “hero” — which seem an overreach for many modern presidents — flowed freely about Mr. Bush, who began his public service as a decorated aviator in the Navy during World War II, and never stopped his service until well into his post-presidency.
He was also what one senator called a “great patriarch,” with the Bush family a dominant presence in Republican politics for decades. Of the last 10 presidential elections, a Bush’s name was on ballots in seven of them.
“George Bush built his life on the premise that loving and serving America was simply a citizen’s duty. He fulfilled that duty time and time again, as completely as anyone could,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “His legacy will rank among the most distinguished statesmen our nation has ever produced.”
President Clinton, who first met Mr. Bush as a young governor, later unseated him in the 1992 election, then would go on to share ambassadorial duties as ex-presidents, praised his “innate and genuine decency.”
“Few Americans have been — or will ever be — able to match President Bush’s record of service to the United States and the joy he took every day from it; from his military service in World War II, to his work in Congress, the United Nations, China, the Central Intelligence Agency, the vice presidency and the presidency, where he worked to move the post Cold War world toward greater unity, peace, and freedom,” Mr. Clinton said.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, where Mr. Bush made his home much of the time in Kennebunkport, cast the former president’s dedication to service in biblical proportions, recalling the Parable of the Talents.
“The master, leaving on a journey, entrusts a servant with a portion of his treasure. Upon his return, the master is delighted to find that his wealth was wisely invested and multiplied,” she said in a statement. “George Herbert Walker Bush was entrusted with the great treasure of principles, determination, and courage. He invested that treasure wisely and multiplied it to the benefit of all. Like the master in the New Testament, to him we say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
Some Democrats, even as they commemorated Mr. Bush, contrasted him with what they saw as the ills of politics today.
“He was a fine man and even when he opposed your views, you knew he was doing what he thought was best for America,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, Democrats’ floor leader in the Senate. “His yearning for a kinder and gentler nation seems more needed now than when he first called for it.”
President Obama called Mr. Bush “a patriot and humble servant,” counting among his accomplishments a peaceful end to the Soviet Union, ousting Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the first Gulf War, and “expanding America’s promise to new immigrants and people with disabilities.”
“After seventy-three years of marriage, George and Barbara Bush are together again now, two points of light that never dimmed, two points of light that ignited countless others with their example – the example of a man who, even after commanding the world’s mightiest military, once said ‘I got more of a kick out of being one of the founders of the YMCA in Midland, Texas back in 1952 than almost anything I’ve done,’” Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle said in a statement.
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