Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush dies at 94
Washington (AP) – George H.W. Bush, a patrician New Englander whose presidency soared with the coalition victory over Iraq in Kuwait, but then plummeted in the throes of a weak economy that led voters to turn him out of office after a single term, has died. He was 94.
The World War II hero, who also presided during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the final months of the Cold War, died late Friday night, Nov. 30, at his Houston home, said family spokesman Jim McGrath. His wife of more than 70 years, Barbara Bush, died in April 2018.
Bush was honored with a state funeral at National Cathedral in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, followed by burial Thursday on the grounds of his presidential library at Texas A&M.
Bush’s crowning achievement as president was assembling the international military coalition that liberated the tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait from invading neighbor Iraq in 1991 in a war that lasted just 100 hours. He also presided over the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union when communism began to crumble on his watch, with the Berlin Wall coming down, the Warsaw Pact disintegrating and Soviet satellites falling out of orbit.
“We didn’t agree much on domestic policy, but when it came to the international side of things, he was a very wise and thoughtful man,” former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, a Democrat who lost the presidency to Bush in 1988, told The Associated Press on Saturday. He credited Bush’s ability to negotiate with former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev as playing a key role.
“It was a time of great change, demanding great responsibility from everyone,” Gorbachev told the Interfrax news agency. “The result was the end of the Cold War and nuclear arms race.”
During that time and after, Gorbachev said, he always appreciated the kindness Bush and his family showed him.
An avid outdoorsman who took Theodore Roosevelt as a model, Bush sought to safeguard the environment and signed the first improvements to the Clean Air Act in more than a decade. It was activism with a Republican cast, allowing polluters to buy others’ clean-air credits and giving industry flexibility on how to meet tougher goals on smog.
He also signed the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act to ban workplace discrimination against people with disabilities and require improved access to public places and transportation.
In Washington, the former Republican president won praise from leaders of both parties.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan lauded him for leading the nation with “decency and integrity,” while Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was a “privilege to work with him.”
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said Bush “befriended political foes, reminding Americans that there is always more that unites us than divides us.”
At the G-20 summit in Argentina, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was raised in then-divided East Germany, told reporters she likely would never have become her country’s leader had Bush not pressed for the nation’s reunification in 1990.
George Herbert Walker Bush was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, into the New England elite, a world of prep schools, mansions and servants seemingly untouched by the Great Depression.
His father, Prescott Bush, the son of an Ohio steel magnate, made his fortune as an investment banker and later served 10 years as a senator from Connecticut.
George H.W. Bush enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday in 1942, right out of prep school. He returned home to marry his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, daughter of the publisher of McCall’s magazine, in January 1945. They were the longest-married presidential couple in U.S. history. She died on April 17, 2018.
Lean and athletic at 6-foot-2, Bush became a war hero while still a teenager. One of the youngest pilots in the Navy, he flew 58 missions off the carrier USS San Jacinto.
He had to ditch one plane in the Pacific and was shot down on Sept. 2, 1944, while completing a bombing run against a Japanese radio tower. An American submarine rescued Bush. His two crewmates perished. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery.
After military service, Bush enrolled in Yale University, where he would become a scholar-athlete, captaining the baseball team to two College World Series before graduating Phi Beta Kappa after just 2 ½ years.
After moving to Texas to work in the oil business, Bush turned his attention to politics in the 1960s, being elected to his first of two terms in Congress in 1967. He would go on to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and China, head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee before being elected to two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
Soon after he reached the zenith of his political popularity following the liberation of Kuwait, the U.S. economy began to sour, however, and voters began to believe that Bush, never a great orator, was out of touch with ordinary people.
He lost his bid for re-election to then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who would later become a close friend. The pair worked together to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.
“Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton of all people?” he joked in 2005.
Clinton said he would be “forever grateful” for that friendship.
Bush approached old age with gusto, celebrating his 75th and 80th birthdays by skydiving over College Station, Texas, the home of his presidential library. He did it again on his 85th birthday in 2009, parachuting near his oceanfront home in Kennebunkport, Maine. He used his presidential library at Texas A&M University as a base for keeping active in civic life.
He became the patriarch of one of the nation’s most prominent political families. In addition to George W. becoming president, another son, Jeb, was elected Florida governor in 1998 and made an unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
The other Bush children are sons Neil and Marvin and daughter Dorothy Bush LeBlond. Another daughter, Robin, died of leukemia in 1953, a few weeks before her fourth birthday.