ByEd Adamczyk and Danielle Haynes
Former President George H.W. Bush was the longest living president in U.S. history. He died Friday at the age of 94. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 1 (UPI) — George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, died Friday, his family announced. He was 94.
His death came six months after the passing of his wife of 73 years, former first lady Barbara Bush.
“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died,” his son, former President George W. Bush, said in a statement. “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 and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”
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The 41st president was in ill health in recent years and had been hospitalized a number of time over the past several months. Shortly after Barbara Bush’s death in April, he was hospitalized with a blood infection and again in May with low blood pressure and fatigue.
Bush used a motorized scooter or wheelchair since at least 2012 after being diagnosed with vascular parkinsonism, a form of Parkinson’s disease. He also sustained a severe neck injury in 2015.
A statement from President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump praised Bush for inspiring generations of Americans to enter public service.
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“With sound judgement, 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,” the Trumps said.
After serving as vice president from 1981 to 1989 he was elected president in 1988, defeating Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, the first sitting vice president to be elevated to the presidency since Martin Van Buren in 1837. He also was the first Republican president since Herbert Hoover to lose a re-election campaign, to candidate Bill Clinton, in 1992.
His term as president saw him as a “pragmatic caretaker,” with no unified long-term theme, but he led the country during the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany; the overthrow, with the help of U.S. troops, of the Manuel Noriega regime in Panama; the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War; and the first Gulf War against Iraq in defense of Kuwait.
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The Bush administration, left with the Reagan administration’s strong economy, left a relatively weak legacy in domestic affairs — Passage of the Clean Air Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act were achievements of his domestic agenda — and largely concentrated on foreign policy issues.
The success of the 1990 Gulf War was the highlight of Bush’s presidency. After Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and with fears he would continue with the invasion of the world’s largest producer of oil, neighboring Saudi Arabia, Bush mobilized an unprecedented offensive. Some 415,000 U.S. troops, and 118,000 more from coalition countries backed by the United Nations, arrived in Kuwait, as did an extraordinary amount of military supplies. After several weeks of aerial attacks, the ground operation referred to as Operation Desert Storm defeated Saddam’s army in about 100 hours.
The coalition quickly withdrew, with Bush choosing not to risk getting bogged down in a ground war in invading Iraq and attempting to topple Saddam’s regime. The decision left Iraq’s Kurdish forces, fighting the Iraqi army with expectations of coalition support, alone and victims of Saddam’s revenge.
Prior to the defense of Kuwait on Sept. 11, 1990, Bush outlined a plan in an address to Congress which included an Iraqi withdrawal, the restoration of Kuwait’s government, and “a new world order … freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace.” That new world order was never achieved.
An uninspiring 1992 presidential campaign, and the presence of third-party candidate Ross Perot, doomed Bush’s attempt at a second term. After trouncing Dukakis in 1988 by 426 electoral votes to 111, Clinton defeated Bush by 370 electoral votes to 168, with Perot receiving none.
Among the issues confounding Bush during the 1992 race was an increase in taxes during his administration to deal with a soaring budget deficit; it violated his famous pledge, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” made at the 1988 Republican National Convention.
George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Mass., on June 12, 1924, the son of Prescott Bush, a Wall Street executive and later senator from Connecticut. After attending Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., he joined the Navy on his 18th birthday and as the Navy’s youngest pilot flew 58 combat missions in World War II. He was shot down over the Pacific Ocean on one mission and was rescued by a submarine. He was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action.
After returning home he married Barbara Pierce in 1945, with whom he had six children. His oldest son, George W. Bush, was the 43rd president of the United States and his third-oldest child, Jeb Bush, served as governor of Florida and ran for president in 2016. Sons Neil Bush and Marvin Bush are businessmen, and daughter Dorothy Bush Koch is an author and philanthropist. The Bushes’ first daughter, Robin, died at age 3.
His grandson, George P. Bush, Texas land commissioner, said his grandfather “was the greatest man I ever knew.”
“He was more than a great man; he was a good man. His courage was matched by his compassion; and his dedication to country was equaled only by his devotion to his family. Gampy, we love you and we will miss you. But we will never forget you,” he said.
He received Phi Beta Kappa honors and captained the baseball team while studying at Yale University, and began a career in the oil industry in Texas, forming Bush-Overbey Oil Development, Inc., organizing Zapata Petroleum Corp., and serving as first president of Zapata Off-Shore Co., all in Midland, Texas, in the early 1950s.
Entering politics, he served two terms in the House of Representatives and unsuccessfully ran for the Senate. The executive appointments that followed gave him the reputation of the person with “the best resume in Washington.” He was U.S ambassador to the United Nations; chairman of the Republican National Committee; chief U.S. liaison officer to the People’s Republic of China; and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. After his unsuccessful candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, he was elected vice president on the Republican ticket with Ronald Reagan, then president in 1988.
More so than most contemporary presidents, his approval ratings rocked significantly during his administration. He entered and left the presidency with about a 50 percent approval rating; it spiked to 90 percent after Operation Desert Storm, then fell to about 30 percent by the middle of 1992. Despite popularity stemming from the rout of the Iraqi army, Bush, in the 1991 presidential campaign, contended with a faltering economy, rising urban violence and deficit spending continued from the Reagan administration. Each was a factor in his loss to Clinton.
A book, 41, written by his son, George W. Bush and published in 2014, dwelled on the character of the elder Bush.
“He’s an extraordinary person, not only because of his accomplishments but because of his character. I understand how history works. It takes a long time for people to get to know him, get to know somebody and then analyze their decisions. But I wanted to be one of the first people out in the evaluation of George H.W. Bush,” the younger Bush said after its publication.
The book preceded a 2015 biography, Jon Meacham’s Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, in which Bush was critical of his son’s vice president, Dick Cheney, saying he “had his own empire there (in the White House) and marched to his own drummer. It just showed me that you cannot do it that way. The president should not have that worry.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also “served the president badly. I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything.”
A statement from former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama called Bush a “patriot and humble servant.”
“While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Not merely for the years he spent as our 41st president, but for the more than 70 years he spent in devoted service to the country he loved — from a decorated Naval aviator who nearly gave his life in World War II, to commander-in-chief of our armed forces, with plenty of posts along the way,” they said.
Obama awarded Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010.
“George H.W. Bush’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling.”
George H.W. Bush is survived by his five children, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He will be interred next to his wife at the George H.W. Bush Library Center in College Station, Texas.
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