I did not know George H. W. Bush. On the occasions I visited Kennebunkport, I did not—as I had hoped to—bump into he and his wife Barbara at Nunan’s Lobster Hut. Sadly, I did not catch them strolling along the sandy shores of Goose Rocks Beach.
The closest I ever came to seeing our 41stPresident in person were the times I biked along Ocean Avenue and stopped to admire the Bush compound. Rebel that I am, I’d pedal close enough to the guard post take a sneak peek at the secret service agent on duty that day.
He was known as “Poppy” while playing baseball at Yale. His kids called him “Dad.” He was “Gampy” to his grandchildren. James Baker referred to his former boss and dear friend as “Jefe”—the Spanish word for chief. A great many called him “H. W.” or “41.”
Last week, 41 was honored in a funeral worthy of a president, and a worthy president he was. I’d love to think I might be remembered with half of the adjectives Baker used when he eulogized Bush.
Adjectives like kind, humble, compassionate, courageous, and peacemaker. Each word was supported by a true story that revealed H. W.’s character.
Baker said “Jefe” was a man of great faith, moral character, and decency, that the former President had boundless kindness and consideration of others. He said Bush possessed, “a determination to always do the right thing and always do that to the very best of his ability.
The former Secretary of State pointed out that our 41stpresident embodied the same characteristics and ideas that were shared by our founding founders. Like those great men, Bush, fought—literally fought—to protect the country he loved.
Baker added that H. W. never sought praise. He was not one to pat himself on the back—not even when the Berlin Wall came down. He played out his role behind the scenes, even showing compassion to Mikhail Gorbachev.
“Don’t brag about yourself. Let others point out your virtues, your good points,” H. W. once wrote—words his mother raised him by.
That explains why George W. and his siblings did not learn of his father’s naval heroics prior to 41’s presidential campaign. H. W. was the youngest naval aviator in World War II, putting his country before college.
Former Senator Alan Simpson spoke of Bush’s humility saying, “Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, DC are not bothered by heavy traffic.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if those words made notables throughout the church squirm. But, then, maybe not. Too many have put aside the noble qualities that helped our forefathers shape this country.
As I listened to tribute after tribute, I silently hoped 41 was not the last of our United States’ presidents to embrace the selflessness it takes to be a great leader.
“I once heard it said of man that the idea is to die young—as late as possible,” said George W. of his father.
His said his dad wasn’t a great orator, and he wasn’t Fred Astaire on the dance floor, but, at 85, H. W. boarded his boat and opened it, full throttle, flying across the water. At 90, he parachuted out of an aircraft and landed softly on the grounds of St. Ann’s, his church in Kennebunkport.
The son’s praises made me want to emulate his father. I hope to be “temperate in thought, word, and deed” and to consider my choices and then choose wisely. I hope to live young—to continue to seek adventure and new ventures—for the rest of my life
I did not know George H. W. Bush, but I liked him. For the record, I called him “President”—a great one.