The Slatest

Family and Former Presidents React to George H.W. Bush’s Death

Jimmy Carter looks down toward George H. W. Bush and smiles on his left. To his right, his son George stands and smiles. To his left, Obama and Clinton applaud. They are all standing on a stage set up for a concert.
Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama stand with the late George H.W. Bush at a hurricane relief concert in College Station, Texas, on Oct. 21, 2017. AFP Contributor/Getty Images

George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, died on Friday at the age of 94 at his home in Houston. George W. Bush announced his father’s death in a statement calling the elder Bush “a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for.”

Soon other prominent politicians, along with world leaders and friends of the late president, joined in remembering a man whose principles and sense of duty they tended to emphasize.

In the Bush family, Jeb and both of his sons reacted publicly to the news.

Jeb’s son George P. Bush, the Texas land commissioner and the only member of the family to publicly support Donald Trump, spoke of his grandfather’s commitment to family. “His life spanned the American Century—he fought in World War II … took part in the Texas oil boom … served out a distinguished career in public service including serving as president during the final days of the Cold War,” he wrote. “But to me, he will always be Gampy. The man who taught me to fish in Maine, to throw a horseshoe and to swing a baseball bat lefty.” Jeb Jr. wrote of his grandfather’s support for those in the military. “His leadership taught us to be kinder and gentler, to love each other,” he wrote.

Three former presidents also gave statements lauding Bush’s legacy of service. Barack Obama had met with George H.W. Bush Tuesday in Houston for what a Bush person described as “a very pleasant and private visit at the Bush residence, where they rekindled what was already a very warm friendship.” In his statement, Obama thanked the elder Bush. “George H.W. Bush’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling,” he wrote. “And he did tremendous good along the journey. Expanding America’s promise to new immigrants and people with disabilities. Reducing the scourge of nuclear weapons and building a broad international coalition to expel a dictator from Kuwait. And when democratic revolutions bloomed across Eastern Europe, it was his steady, diplomatic hand that made possible an achievement once thought anything but — ending the Cold War without firing a shot. It’s a legacy of service that may never be matched, even though he’d want all of us to try.”

The statement from Bill and Hillary Clinton also emphasized Bush’s decades of service, but it also spoke to the friendship between the 41st president and the man who defeated his bid for a second term. “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,” Clinton wrote. “I am profoundly grateful for every minute I spent with President Bush and will always hold our friendship as one of my life’s greatest gifts.”

Jimmy Carter, now the oldest living former president, said in a statement released through the Carter Center that Bush’s administration was “marked by grace, civility, and social conscience.” He wrote that Bush “espoused a uniquely American volunteer spirit, fostering bipartisan support for citizen service and inspiring millions to embrace community volunteerism as a cherished responsibility.”

Donald Trump praised Bush’s “authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family and country.” He wrote: “With sound judgement [sic], common sense, and unflappable leadership, President Bush guided our Nation, and the world, to a peaceful and victorious conclusion of the Cold War. As President, he set the stage for the decades of prosperity that have followed. And through all that he accomplished, he remained humble, following the quiet call to service that gave him a clear sense of direction.”