Dec 10 2018
Recalls Bush’s Personal Courtesy Years Ago
President Bush knew these principles were timeless because he had lived his entire life by them. A member of the Greatest Generation, he understood that “taking part and pitching in” were small but necessary prices to pay for the good fortune of living in the land of the free.
The tributes for President Bush, who passed away on November 30 at the age of 94, have brought deserved attention to his extraordinary biography. But they have also captured the 41st president’s abounding humility, kindness, and compassion. He was “an empathetic man” who “valued character over pedigree,” as President George W. Bush noted during his father’s funeral.
I was on the receiving end of that kindness as student body president for the University of Mississippi in 1973, when I got the chance to make a presentation before the future president, then chairman of the Republican National Committee. His gracious words of praise following my brief remarks were overly generous but they meant the world to this college senior. I am thankful our paths crossed several times after that first encounter and that President Bush forged such close ties with our state through his longtime friendship with Mississippi Congressman Sonny Montgomery.
By the time he was elected to Congress in 1966, President Bush had already earned awards for his bravery in World War II, risking his life as a naval aviator in no less than 58 combat missions. He represented the 7th district of Texas for two terms before serving as ambassador to the United Nations, ambassador to China, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Any of these roles would suffice as the capstone of a career, but they were merely the prologue for his rise to our nation’s highest offices, vice president and president of the United States.
The world was at a critical juncture during President Bush’s time in the White House. Under his watch, Americans witnessed the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, and the liberation of Kuwait from the grip of Saddam Hussein. The international order was changing, and so was America’s place in it. President Bush rose to the occasion, just as he had as a young recruit during World War II, and shepherded the advancement of freedom with both strength and grace. All the while, he never abandoned his commitment to the good work and service done by ordinary citizens, the “thousand points of light” needed to sustain democracy here at home.
President Bush’s life was marked by distinction, but his legacy will be sustained by the larger-than-life devotion and love he showed to his family and friends. He and Barbara were married longer than any other presidential couple. He became the second U.S. president to watch his son take the oath of office, and he leaves behind for us the same purpose that he dedicated his life to fulfill: “to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”