Former President George H.W. Bush dead at the age of 94: Cold War warrior, who spent a lifetime in high public office and created an American political dynasty passes away eight months after his beloved wife Barbara
- George Herbert Walker Bush, America’s 41st president, died on Friday night at his home in Houston
- He had been hospitalized days earlier with low blood pressure, and several times prior for pneumonia
- His death comes less than eight months after wife of 73 years Barbara’s passing in April
- Tributes poured in from former presidents Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush, Bush’s eldest son
- Second World War hero Bush presided over the final days of the Cold War and the crackup of the Soviet Union
- The son of a senator and father of a president, Bush was the man with the golden political resume
- The 1991 Gulf War stoked his popularity, but he was haunted by his remark: ‘Read my lips. No new taxes’
- Bush Snr was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992, but would live to see his eldest son George W. be elected twice
George Herbert Walker Bush, America’s 41st president, has died at the age 94.
The Second World War hero passed away at 10.10pm CT on Friday at his home in Houston, Texas, his office confirmed in a statement.
The statement did not specify the cause of death, but Bush had a form of Parkinson’s disease and had been hospitalized several times for pneumonia and other infections in recent years. Days before his death, Bush was reportedly being treated for low blood pressure.
Bush Snr, who presided over the final days of the Cold War and the crackup of the Soviet Union, died less than eight months after his beloved wife of 70 years, Barbara, passed away.
His eldest son George W. Bush, the 43rd president, paid tribute to his father and the head of their political dynasty on behalf of his siblings, saying: ‘Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died.’
‘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 for and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens,’ the younger Bush added.
George H.W. Bush, America’s 41st president, died on Friday at his home in Houston age 94. He is seen above in 2013
Bush embraces former first lady Barbara Bush in 2006 after she introduced him at a Mother’s Day Luncheon in Dallas
George W. Bush, and his father Former President George H.W. Bush wave to the crowd before the Texas Rangers host the San Francisco Giants in Game Four of the 2010 World Series
Bush gives his acceptance speech for the persidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 18, 1988.
President Donald Trump and First Melania also offered tribute to Bush in a statement.
‘Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service – to be, in his words, ‘a thousand points of light’ illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world,’ the statement said.
‘His example lives on, and will continue to stir future Americans to pursue a greater cause.’
Other former presidents also weighed in with condolences on Bush’s death.
Bill Clinton, who defeated Bush in the 1992 election, said in a statement: ‘I will be forever grateful for the friendship we formed. From the moment I met him as a young governor invited to his home in Kennebunkport, I was struck by the kindness he showed to Chelsea, by his innate and genuine decency, and by his devotion to Barbara, his children, and their growing brood.’
‘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,’ Clinton added.
Barack Obama said in a statement: ‘America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush.’
‘While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Our thoughts are with the entire Bush family tonight – and all who were inspired by George and Barbara’s example,’ he added.
The son of a senator and father of a president, Bush was the man with the golden resume who rose through the political ranks: from congressman to U.N. ambassador, Republican Party chairman to envoy to China, CIA director to two-term vice president under the hugely popular Ronald Reagan.
The 1991 Gulf War stoked his popularity. But Bush would acknowledge that he had trouble articulating ‘the vision thing,’ and he was haunted by his decision to break a stern, solemn vow he made to voters: ‘Read my lips. No new taxes.’
He lost his bid for re-election to Bill Clinton in a campaign in which businessman H. Ross Perot took almost 19 percent of the vote as an independent candidate. Still, he lived to see his son, George W., twice elected to the presidency – only the second father-and-son chief executives, following John Adams and John Quincy Adams.
After his 1992 defeat, Bush complained that media-created ‘myths’ gave voters a mistaken impression that he did not identify with the lives of ordinary Americans. He decided he lost because he ‘just wasn’t a good enough communicator.’
Bush is seen left as a Naval aviator cadet in 1943 and right as a young Navy pilot
Navy pilot George H.W. Bush sits in the cockpit of a VT-51 Avenger in 1944
Once out of office, Bush was content to remain on the sidelines, except for an occasional speech or paid appearance and visits abroad. He backed Clinton on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which had its genesis during his own presidency. He visited the Middle East, where he was revered for his defense of Kuwait. And he returned to China, where he was welcomed as ‘an old friend’ from his days as the U.S. ambassador there.
He later teamed with Clinton to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005. During their wide-ranging travels, the political odd couple grew close.
‘Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton, of all people?’ Bush quipped in October 2005.
In his post-presidency, Bush’s popularity rebounded with the growth of his reputation as a fundamentally decent and well-meaning leader who, although he was not a stirring orator or a dreamy visionary, was a steadfast humanitarian. Elected officials and celebrities of both parties publicly expressed their fondness.
After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Bush quickly began building an international military coalition that included other Arab states. After liberating Kuwait, he rejected suggestions that the U.S. carry the offensive to Baghdad, choosing to end the hostilities a mere 100 hours after the start of the ground war.
‘That wasn’t our objective,’ he told The Associated Press in 2011 from his office just a few blocks from his Houston home. ‘The good thing about it is there was so much less loss of human life than had been predicted and indeed than we might have feared.’
As a first baseman and captain of his baseball team at Yale University, Bush played in the first-ever College World Series in 1947
Navy Lieutenant George Bush and Barbara Pierce get married in the First Presbyterian Church in Rye, New York on January 6, 1945
Bush and his bride Barbara are seen at their wedding in 1945 in Rye, New York
George H. W. Bush with his wife, Barbara, and their children Pauline and George W. on horse in the yard of their Midlands, Texas ranch
But the decisive military defeat did not lead to the regime’s downfall, as many in the administration had hoped.
‘I miscalculated,’ acknowledged Bush. His legacy was dogged for years by doubts about the decision not to remove Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader was eventually ousted in 2003, in the war led by Bush’s son that was followed by a long, bloody insurgency.
George H.W. Bush entered the White House in 1989 with a reputation as a man of indecision and indeterminate views. One newsmagazine suggested he was a ‘wimp.’
But his work-hard, play-hard approach to the presidency won broad public approval. He held more news conferences in most months than Reagan did in most years.
The Iraq crisis of 1990-91 brought out all the skills Bush had honed in a quarter-century of politics and public service.
After winning United Nations support and a green light from a reluctant Congress, Bush unleashed a punishing air war against Iraq and a five-day ground juggernaut that sent Iraqi forces reeling in disarray back to Baghdad. He basked in the biggest outpouring of patriotism and pride in America’s military since World War II, and his approval ratings soared to nearly 90 percent.
The other battles he fought as president, including a war on drugs and a crusade to make American children the best educated in the world, were not so decisively won.
Bush is seen early in his political career in teh 1960s, when he was a Congressman from Texas
George H.W. Bush and an unidentified woman peek around a partition with a poster of Ronald Reagan, one of his opponents for the Republican party presidential nomination, in 1980
Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and vice presidential candidate George Bush and their wives wave goodbye as they leave Detroit two days after the 1980 Republican National Convention
Portrait of the Bush family sitting in front of their home in Kennebunkport, Maine in 1986
President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush, accompanied by wives Nancy and Barbara, join hands after Reagan endorses Bush’s run for the Presidency during the President’s Dinner in Washington on May 11, 1988
He rode into office pledging to make the United States a ‘kinder, gentler’ nation and calling on Americans to volunteer their time for good causes – an effort he said would create ‘a thousand points of light.’
It was Bush’s violation of a different pledge, the no-new-taxes promise, that helped sink his bid for a second term. He abandoned the idea in his second year, cutting a deficit-reduction deal that angered many congressional Republicans and contributed to GOP losses in the 1990 midterm elections.
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.
Bush failed to rein in the deficit, which had tripled to $3 trillion under Reagan and galloped ahead by as much as $300 billion a year under Bush, who put his finger on it in his inauguration speech: ‘We have more will than wallet.’
American politician George H.W. Bush takes the oath of office as he is sworn in as 41st President of the United States by Chief Justice William Rehnquist at the US Capitol in 1989
Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush walk down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Inaugural Parade following his inauguration
President Bush is seen standing in the White House Oval Office, possibly before giving speech on Iraq and Gulf Crisis
Seven years of economic growth ended in mid-1990, just as the Gulf crisis began to unfold. Bush insisted the recession would be ‘short and shallow,’ and lawmakers did not even try to pass a jobs bill or other relief measures.
Bush’s true interests lay elsewhere, outside the realm of nettlesome domestic politics. ‘I love coping with the problems in foreign affairs,’ he told a child who asked what he liked best about being president.
He operated at times like a one-man State Department, on the phone at dawn with his peers – Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, Francois Mitterrand of France, Germany’s Helmut Kohl.
Communism began to crumble on his watch, with the Berlin Wall coming down, the Warsaw Pact disintegrating and the Soviet satellites falling out of orbit.
He seized leadership of the NATO alliance with a bold and ultimately successful proposal for deep troop and tank cuts in Europe. Huge crowds cheered him on a triumphal tour through Poland and Hungary.
Bush’s invasion of Panama in December 1989 was a military precursor of the Gulf War: a quick operation with a resoundingly superior American force. But in Panama, the troops seized dictator Manuel Noriega and brought him back to the United States in chains to stand trial on drug-trafficking charges.
Bush meets with his military advisors at the Pentagon to discuss the Gulf crisis, in Washington August 15, 1990
Bush is surrounded by U.S. military personnel as he greets troops in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Dhahran in 1990
Bush addresses U.S. military personnel from different branches of the U.S. Armed Forces after arriving to celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday, at an air base in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Dhahran November 22, 1990
Bush waves goodbye to U.S. Marines and members of the British 7th Armoured Brigade as they conclude a Thanksgiving Day visit with troops in the Saudi desert November 22, 1990
Months after the Gulf War, Washington became engrossed in a different sort of confrontation over one of Bush’s nominees to the Supreme Court.
Clarence Thomas, a little-known federal appeals court judge, was accused of sexual harassment by a former colleague named Anita Hill. His confirmation hearings exploded into a national spectacle, sparking an intense debate over race, gender and the modern workplace. Thomas was eventually confirmed.
In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Bush fought the impression that he was distant and disconnected, and he seemed to struggle against the younger, more empathetic Clinton.
During a campaign visit to a grocers’ convention, Bush reportedly expressed amazement when shown an electronic checkout scanner. Critics seized on the moment, saying it indicated that the president had become disconnected from voters.
Later at a town-hall style debate, he paused to look at his wristwatch – a seemingly innocent glance that became freighted with deeper meaning because it seemed to reinforce the idea of a bored, impatient incumbent.
In the same debate, Bush became confused by a woman’s question about whether the deficit had affected him personally. Clinton, with apparent ease, left his seat, walked to the edge of the stage to address the woman and offered a sympathetic answer.
Bush is seen holding one of dog Millie’s newborn puppies, dwarfed in his hands, on White House lawn
South African anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela (L) waves to the media and fans after finishing his joint statement with former US President George Bush (R) on the White House South Lawn in 1990
U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev shake hands in front of U.S. and Soviet flags at the end of a news conference in Moscow July 31, 1991
President George Bush gestures while standing next to former President Gerald Ford during a campaign rally for his second presidential campaign at the Gerald Ford Museum, October 29, 1992
Bush said the pain of losing in 1992 was eased by the warm reception he received after leaving office.
‘I lost in ’92 because people still thought the economy was in the tank, that I was out of touch and I didn’t understand that,’ he said in an AP interview shortly before the dedication of his presidential library in 1997. ‘The economy wasn’t in the tank, and I wasn’t out of touch, but I lost. I couldn’t get through this hue and cry for ‘change, change, change’ and ‘The economy is horrible, still in recession.’
Meanwhile, British former Prime Minister Sir John Major has paid tribute to the president who both served in office at the same time.
He said: ‘George HW Bush was above all else a family man and, for him, the American people were part of that family.
‘In public office he served as he lived, with compassion, courage, dignity and grace. As president, he saw America’s obligation to the world and honoured it – and he remained committed to public service until the day he died.
Bush and his wife Barbara, react as their son comes out on stage to accept the Republican presidential nomination in 2000
‘I feel privileged to have worked with him, and even more privileged that he became a lifelong friend. He was, quite simply, one of the most deep down decent people I have ever known.
‘Our hearts go out to his family, but they will take great comfort in the knowledge that their brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather is now reunited with his beloved wife Barbara, and their daughter Robin.’
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.
President George W. Bush sits at his desk in the Oval Office for the first time on Inauguration Day as his father, former President George H.W. Bush, looks on January 20, 2001
Former President George H.W. Bush walks the gangway as he arrives for the christening ceremony of the USS George H.W. Bush at Northrop-Grumman’s shipyard in Newport News, Virginia October 7, 2006
US President George W. Bush waves as he walks out of the Oval Office with his father, former President George H. W. Bush, after Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 at the White House in Washington, DC
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 the war, Bush took just 2½ years to graduate from Yale, then headed west in 1948 to the oil fields of West Texas. Bush and partners helped found Zapata Petroleum Corp. in 1953. Six years later, he moved to Houston and became active in the Republican Party.
In politics, he showed the same commitment he displayed in business, advancing his career through loyalty and subservience.
He was first elected to Congress in 1966 and served two terms. President Richard Nixon appointed him ambassador to the United Nations, and after the 1972 election, named him chairman of the Republican National Committee. Bush struggled to hold the party together as Watergate destroyed the Nixon presidency, then became ambassador to China and CIA chief in the Ford administration.
Bush made his first bid for president in 1980 and won the Iowa caucuses, but Reagan went on to win the nomination.
In the 1988 presidential race, Bush trailed the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, by as many as 17 points that summer. He did little to help himself by picking Dan Quayle, a lightly regarded junior senator from Indiana, as a running mate.
Former U.S. president George Bush and his wife Barbara Bush are seen kissing on a giant electronic screen in center field showing the ‘Kiss Cam’ during the middle of the sixth inning in Game 4 between the Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series in Houston, Texas October 16, 2005
Former President George H.W. Bush free falls with Army Golden Knights parachute team member Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott, as he makes a dramatic entrance to his presidential museum during a rededication ceremony in College Station, Texas in 2007
U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to former U.S. President George H.W. Bush during a ceremony at the White House in Washington February 15, 2011
George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush arrive at the funeral service for former first lady Barbara Bush, in Houston in April
Former first lady Laura Bush, former President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State and first lady Hilary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, former President George H. W. Bush, former first lady Michelle Obama and current first lady Melania Trump pose for a group photo at the funeral ceremony for the late first lady Barbara Bush at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church on April 21, 2018 in Houston, Texas
Barbara Bush was buried in this plot on the grounds of the Bush Library at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, and George H.W. Bush will be laid to rest beside her
The presidential seal is seen just inside the iron gate at the entrance to the future gravesite of George H.W. Bush
But Bush soon became an aggressor, stressing patriotic themes and flailing Dukakis as an out-of-touch liberal. He carried 40 states, becoming the first sitting vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836.
He took office with the humility that was his hallmark.
‘Some see leadership as high drama, and the sound of trumpets calling, and sometimes it is that,’ he said at his inauguration. ‘But I see history as a book with many pages, and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness and meaning. The new breeze blows, a page turns, the story unfolds.’
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.
Bush is survived by five children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and two siblings.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 73 years, Barbara, his second child Pauline Robinson ‘Robin’ Bush, and his brothers Prescott and William ‘Bucky’ Bush.
George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara wave to supporters in Houston, Texas after winning the 1988 presidential election
Things to Know about George H.W. Bush
George H.W. Bush was largely known for his work in public office, from his time as a Texas congressman and CIA director to his years in the White House as president and Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
But the World War II hero and great-grandfather also was an avid skydiver, played in the first-ever College World Series and was the longest-married president in U.S. history.
Here’s a closer look at those and other elements of his life:
NICKNAMES: George H.W. Bush was known to his family as ‘Poppy.’ His wife said her husband was named after his maternal grandfather, who was known as ‘Pops,’ so the younger Bush was called ‘Little Pops.’
The nickname evolved into Poppy, which Bush ‘hated as he got older, but it was hard to break such a long-standing habit,’ Barbara Bush wrote in her memoir. But his grandchildren knew him as ‘Gampy,’ a name he embraced.
MEETING HIS WIFE: Bush met his wife at a dance in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1941. He was a 17-year-old high school senior, while she was 16 and attending school in Charleston, South Carolina, and home for Christmas.
The band was playing Glenn Miller tunes, but when he asked her to dance, the music changed to a waltz. He didn’t how to waltz, so they talked. They were married on Jan. 6, 1945, and were the longest-married presidential couple. She died on April 17, 2018
THE SEA: Bush’s lifelong love of the sea and boats began in Maine, with his grandfather teaching him how to handle and dock a boat. At age 9, he and his 11-year-old brother were first allowed to take out their grandfather’s lobster boat by themselves.
Bush wrote in a 1987 book that he loved ‘the physical sensation of steering a powerful machine, throttle open.’ In 2010, to enjoy at his home in Maine, he bought a 38-foot fishing boat, Fidelity V, equipped with three 300-horsepower engines and capable of reaching 75 mph.
THE AIR: During World War II, Bush was one of the Navy’s youngest pilots when he was shot down during a 1944 bombing mission. He parachuted into the Pacific Ocean and was rescued by an American submarine.
He fulfilled a wartime promise to himself to someday skydive just for fun in 1997, when at age 73 and over his family’s objections, he bailed out over a military base in Arizona, ‘to show that old guys can still do stuff,’ he said. He later marked his 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays with parachute jumps.
BASEBALL: As a first baseman and captain of his baseball team at Yale University, Bush played in the first-ever College World Series in 1947.
His team lost to the University of California. Yale again reached the College World Series finals in 1948 and this time lost to Southern California. Sparky Anderson, who would win the World Series as manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, was a batboy on the Southern Cal team.
OIL: Bush learned the oil industry in West Texas, starting in 1948 as an equipment clerk for an oilfield services company. He drove from New England to Texas in a 1947 Studebaker and ordered his first chicken fried steak — a Texas staple — at a restaurant in Abilene, wondering if it was chicken or steak but trying to fit in.
The deep-fried steak smothered in gravy became a Bush favorite. A restored 1947 Studebaker identical to the one he owned is on display at his presidential museum at Texas A&M University.
GULF WAR: The signature event of Bush’s presidency was the 1991 Gulf War. But when he ordered U.S. troops to Kuwait, he acknowledged, he was prepared for the worst. ‘We feared it would go badly,’ he told The Associated Press in 2011, on the 20th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm.
‘But it went far more clean … far more quickly, far less loss of our lives and Iraqi lives, than we worried about. It was very rewarding.’
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Bush said he wrote one letter-to-the-editor as president, and it went to The New York Times regarding a story about him being out of touch because he didn’t know about grocery store price-scanning devices.
‘I was — I thought — smeared by an ugly story,’ he said in a 1999 C-SPAN interview. Bush said his remark describing the device as ‘amazing’ came at a convention showing off the new technology and was portrayed by ‘some lazy little reporter … (who) wasn’t even there. … And the damn story lived on.’
HORSESHOES: During his White House years, Bush annually held two horseshoe tournaments with teams made up of everyone who worked there, including groundskeepers, pilots, cooks and gardeners. ‘One of the best things we did,’ he recalled during a 2000 interview with Time magazine.
He headed the ranking committee, making himself and son Marvin the top seeds. The horseshoe pits were by the southwest gate on the White House grounds, and the sounds of clanging horseshoes could be heard daily as workers practiced ahead of the tournaments.
FINAL RESTING PLACE: After suffering an irregular heartbeat in 2000, he told reporters as he was released from a Florida hospital that mortality was something he thought about ‘but not with fear.’
‘If you’ve got faith, you don’t think of it with fear.’ His burial site, behind his presidential museum in College Station, Texas, is near a pond and across a footbridge over a creek where three large post oaks form a semicircle.
‘The loveliest resting spot I have ever seen,’ Barbara Bush once described it. Their daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia at age 3 in 1953, was moved to the site in 2000, and Barbara Bush was buried there in April 2018.