George Herbert Walker Bush had a number of titles; World War II hero, U.S. Congressman, Ambassador to the U.N., chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ambassador to China, Director of the CIA, Vice-President, and President. He was a man of decency that always seemed to push away celebrity and fame, in order to serve.
“He took himself lightly and took his responsibilities to his help his fellow man seriously. He was a man of enormous love,” President George W. Bush.
The elder Bush defined leadership by always doing the right thing, not because of self, but because it helped others. He was the last gentleman, always dropping individuals handwritten notes.
When Vice President Al Gore lost the 2000 election to his son, the first call Gore received was from 41. It was the elder Bush that called to simply offer a few kind words.
One of my favorite stories of someone taking responsibility for both their words and actions, was when Bush was a young U.S. Congressman in Texas’s 7th District. The year was 1968, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been just assassinated in April. Tensions were high in America, especially in the south. Only months later, Bush would vote for the Fair Housing Act, which was legislation that banned discrimination with regards to race to equal opportunity housing. Bush’s vote set off a firestorm of harsh criticism inside his district.
The mail his office received was 500 to 2 against his vote. After casting the vote in favor of the bill, Bush was ready to face the voters. In a town hall inside the gymnasium of Houston Memorial High School, angry constituents filled the stands to listen to their congressman and then let him have it. Despite the disparagement, Bush did not wavier. Instead, he back his action with words. Over the next minutes, Bush gave his explanation. He defended his vote. “I voted … not out of intimidation or fear, not stampeded by riots – but because of a feeling deep down in my heart that this was the right thing for me to do. That this was the right for America. I knew it would be unpopular – I knew it would be emotional, but I did what I thought was right. What more can I tell you.”
More than a public servant, he loved his family. His greatest achievement may be that he and Barbara had the longest marriage in presidential history, an incredible 73 years.
In the CNN documentary ’41on41”² the former First Lady was quoted that the President learned his traits from his parents.
“George’s mother (Dorothy Walker Bush) was a gentle, wonderful soul. Both his mother and father (U.S. Senator Prescott Bush) taught him to lead by example.” No example reflected the future President’s qualities more than a Walter Howard poem that Dorothy wrote on a Bible she gave to her son on May 29, 1938.
I would be true, for there are those who trust me,
I would be pure, for there are those who care,
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare;
I would be friend to all, the foe, the friendless,
I would be giving and forget the gift.
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh and love and lift.
What advice, what virtues. Our nation would be better if we became truer, purer, stronger, braver, a friend to all, a giver, making ourselves humble, and lived by enjoying life by laughing, loving, and lifting up. If there were more people like him, the world would be a better place.
As Jon Meacham wrote in his biography of the 41st president, “Bushes were to win, but not brag; succeed, but not preen.”
On Nov. 9, 1989, President Bush watched as communism was defeated and the Berlin Wall fell. This was no small feat. The world literally changed that day. The man that served with such distinction pushed away fame and instead remained behind the scenes when the concrete came down.
When urged by his advisors to visit Berlin, Bush refused to celebrate, saying, “what would I do, dance on the wall?” Why, did the President say this? “Looking back,” former Secretary of State James Baker answered this very question,” one of President Bush’s outstanding traits was his humility, and particularly his insistence after the Iron Curtain fell that Americans not gloat about our victory.”
Bush knew he had serious business left. It was not like Gorbachev and leaders in the Kremlin disappeared that day. He knew that at that moment, his actions would later play a key role in maintaining peace. After all, he was also the President of the United States, the leader of the Free World, and Commander-in-Chief of the greatest military the world has ever known.
President Bush understood that when you actually achieve valor, no thanks is necessary. He was a President of a different time, a humbler time. Bush was someone that always showed strength through gentleness. Someone you could be proud of. Someone that when victories came, he refused to gloat.
Man, I miss those times and I will miss President George H.W. Bush.