George Bush, the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd, who steered the United States through a tumultuous period in world affairs but was denied a second term after support for his presidency collapsed under the weight of an economic downturn and his seeming inattention to domestic affairs, died on Friday night at his home in Houston. He was 94.
His death, which was announced by his office, came less than eight months after that of his wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush.
“After 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died,” former President George W. Bush said in a statement on behalf of his siblings. “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.”
George P. Bush, a grandson who serves as the Texas land commissioner, lauded his grandfather for his dedication to his country and to his family.
My grandfather was the greatest man I ever knew. His life spanned the American Century—he fought in World War II … took part in the Texas oil boom … served out a distinguished career in public service including serving as president during the final days of the Cold War. pic.twitter.com/6i68EPVC3j
— George P. Bush (@georgepbush) December 1, 2018
The White House released a statement on behalf of President Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump: “Melania and I join with a grieving nation to mourn the loss of former President George H.W. Bush.”
“With sound judgment, common sense, and unflappable leadership, President Bush guided our nation, and the world, to a peaceful and victorious conclusion of the Cold War,” the statement said. “As president, he set the stage for the decades of prosperity that have followed. And through all that he accomplished, he remained humble, following the quiet call to service that gave him a clear sense of direction.”
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) December 1, 2018
US Vice President described Bush as a “good and great man” whose career was characterized by modesty, integrity and patriotism.
Bush, a Republican, drew praise from both sides of the aisle, as Democrats and Republicans alike commended his commitment to service.
Bush Senior had a form of Parkinson’s disease that forced him to use a wheelchair or motorized scooter in recent years, and he had been in and out of hospitals during that time as his health declined. In April, a day after attending Mrs. Bush’s funeral, he was treated for an infection that had spread to his blood. In 2013, he was in dire enough shape with bronchitis that former President George W. Bush, his son, solicited ideas for a eulogy.
But he proved resilient each time. In 2013 he told well-wishers, through an aide, to “put the harps back in the closet.”
Generations in Politics
Bush 41st’s post-presidency brought talk of a political dynasty. The son of a United States senator, Prescott S. Bush, Bush saw two of his own sons forge political careers that brought him a measure of redemption after he was ousted as commander in chief. George W. Bush became the first son of a president since John Quincy Adams to follow his father to the White House. (Unlike the father, the son won re-election.) Another son, Jeb Bush, was twice elected governor of Florida and ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2016.
As the elder Bush watched troubles envelop the eight-year presidency of his son, however, what had been a source of pride became a cause of distress, friends said. The contrast between the two President Bushes — 41 and 43, as they came to call each other — served to burnish the father’s reputation in later years. As the younger Bush’s popularity fell, the elder Bush’s public standing rose. Many Americans came to appreciate the restrained, seasoned leadership the 41st president had displayed; in an opinion poll in 2012, 59 percent expressed approval. Democrats, including President Barack Obama, praised the father as a way of rebuking the son.
It was a subject Bush avoided discussing in public but one he finally addressed in conversations with Jon Meacham, his biographer, in a book published in 2015. Bush was quoted as saying that his son’s administration had been harmed by a “hard line” atmosphere that pushed an aggressive and ultimately self-destructive use of force around the world, and he placed the blame for that on men who had long been part of his own life and who became key figures in his son’s orbit — Dick Cheney, his son’s vice president, and Donald H. Rumsfeld, his son’s secretary of defense, with whom the elder Bush had feuded.
“I do worry about some of the rhetoric that was out there — some of it his, maybe, and some of it the people around him,” Bush said in the Meacham book, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.”
He was particularly critical of Donald Rumsfeld. “I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president, having his iron-ass view of everything,” he said, adding, “Rumsfeld was an arrogant fellow and self-assured, swagger.”
Bush and his sons did not attend the Republican National Convention that nominated Donald J. Trump as its presidential candidate in 2016, and he pointedly did not endorse Trump in his race against Hillary Clinton.
During the primary, Mr. Trump had repeatedly belittled Jeb Bush as “low energy.” Bush, who had entered the contest as the son of a president with an inside track for the nomination, was forced to withdraw by February.
He celebrated several milestone birthdays, including his 90th, with parachute jumps. He traveled the globe on White House missions, joining Clinton to raise funds for the victims of the tsunami that ravaged Asia in 2004 and of Hurricane Katrina the next year.
Until these undertakings, Bush had made little effort to mask his disdain for Clinton, but they forged an unlikely, almost familial, bond, growing so close that Mrs. Bush described her husband as the father Clinton never had.
The two former presidents became a symbol of bipartisanship in an increasingly partisan age. If Bush’s embrace helped scrub Clinton’s reputation of some of its tawdrier aspects, Clinton helped transform Bush’s image from that of a vanquished one-term president who had never fully escaped the shadow of his popular predecessor, Reagan, to one of a respected elder statesman.
Bush was president during a shift in the world order that had begun under Reagan. His measured response to upheaval in Eastern Europe drew complaints that he was not seizing the reins of history. But he chose a collaborative approach, working with the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to allow for the reunification of Germany, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The two leaders signed treaties mandating historic reductions in their countries’ nuclear and chemical weapons.
“George H. W. Bush was the best one-term president the country has ever had, and one of the most underrated presidents of all time,” James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Bush’s closest adviser for nearly 50 years, said in an interview in 2013. “I think history is going to treat him very well.”
In his first year at the White House, Mr. Bush sent troops into Panama to oust its strongman, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. The rapid, relatively bloodless conclusion of the Persian Gulf war of 1991 earned him a three-minute standing ovation and shouts of “Bush! Bush!” when he addressed a joint session of Congress that March. It also sent his voter approval ratings soaring to close to 85 percent during the four-day aerial bombardment of Baghdad, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll. It was the pinnacle of his presidency, yet it lulled him, not to mention some potentially formidable Democrats, into assuming his re-election was certain.
Iraq was not an unalloyed victory. Bush felt compelled to defend his decision to suspend the assault before it could topple Hussein, and his critics questioned his earlier effort to give Mr. Hussein financial aid and intelligence data. Still, foreign policy successes were the hallmark of his presidency. Not so his domestic record.
By the midpoint of his term, leaders of both the Republican and Democratic Parties complained that in the midst of the worst economy any American president had faced since the end of World War II, Bush had no domestic agenda. Many questioned his sensitivity to the worries of ordinary Americans. Though stung by the criticism, he did little to dispel that perception on a visit to an economically reeling New Hampshire during his re-election campaign, when he announced in January, “Message: I care.”
A Measured Aristocrat
By any yardstick, Bush was an aristocrat, a product of moneyed Greenwich, Conn., where he was instilled with an enduring sense of noblesse oblige.
As a candidate, he was known to ask his Secret Service detail to stop at traffic lights. He wrote enough thank-you notes, courtesy cards and letters of sympathy — Bush seemed to know someone in every town in America — to fill a book, literally.
That book’s title was his customary signoff, “All the Best, George Bush.” Published in 1999, it appeared in lieu of a traditional presidential memoir, which he thought would be unseemly for a man whose mother, Dorothy W. Bush, had taught him the importance of modesty.
But the patrician image also hurt him politically. He drew barbs for his drawing-room mannerisms and expressions. When a waitress serving coffee at a New Hampshire truck stop during the 1988 presidential campaign asked him if he would like a refill, he nodded, saying yes, he’d have another “splash.”
His critics saw him as out of touch with ordinary Americans, pointing to what they portrayed as his amazed reaction during a demonstration of a supermarket scanner when he visited a grocers’ convention while president. (He later insisted that he had not been surprised.)
Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, the former first lady, said in a statement that “George H.W. Bush’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey.”
And former President Jimmy Carter said Mr. Bush’s administration was “marked by grace, civility and social conscience.”
— The Carter Center (@CarterCenter) December 1, 2018
In a piece published in The Washington Post, former President Bill Clinton fondly recalled the letter he received from Bush, his predecessor, upon assuming office.
“There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair,” Bush wrote. “I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.”
Despite their differences, Clinton said, he admired Bush’s accomplishments, calling their friendship “one of the great gifts of my life.”
“To the end, we knew we would never agree on everything, and we agreed that was O.K.,” Clinton said. “Honest debate strengthens democracy.”
Global leaders also paid their respects. Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, called Bush a “true partner.”
“We had the opportunity to work together during the era of great changes,” Gorbachev said in a statement. “It was a dramatic period, which required everyone to be tremendously responsible. Its outcome was the end of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.”
Theresa May, the British prime minister, described Mr. Bush as “a true friend” and “the trusted counterpart and confidant of two prime ministers.”
James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Bush’s closest adviser for nearly 50 years, noted the many ways his friend had served: a Navy pilot during World War II, a Texas congressman, a United Nations ambassador, director of the C.I.A., vice president — and finally, president.
“The legacy of George H.W. Bush will be forever etched in the history of America and the world,” he said in a statement, adding: “It was my pleasure and great joy to have had him as my special friend for more than 60 years.”
Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state in the administration of Bush’s son President George W. Bush, said in a statement that the senior Mr. Bush was a mentor to her and a dear friend.
“We will never forget his steady and inspired leadership in guiding the world to the peaceful end of the Cold War,” Rice wrote. “He has finished his race with honor and dignity.”
With Sarah Mervosh and Jacey Fortin