With the passing of former President George Herbert Walker Bush on Friday, the last of the leaders of the “greatest generation” has left the national stage. His is a great loss, and the outpouring of affection for the man and what he stood for is a well-deserved tribute.
Known to his family as “Poppy,” the nation’s 41st president, who served from 1989 to 1993, was also the last of the patrician presidents of the 20th century, a man in the mold of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, like them a product of a wealthy family, a New England preparatory school and an Ivy League education.
Mr. Bush made history in a number of ways. He was the first serving vice president to be elected to the presidency since Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson in 1837, and the first president since John Adams (1797-1801) whose son also became president.
At age 18, Mr. Bush enlisted in the Navy as a seaman and soon became the youngest naval aviator, flying missions from carriers against the Japanese fleet. He was shot down in 1944, rescued by submarine, and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Once safely home, Mr. Bush married Barbara Pierce, whom he met in 1941 while she was a boarding student at Charleston’s Ashley Hall.
She also became a beloved national figure. Ms. Bush died in April.
Although Mr. Bush’s presidency was marked by the use of military force in the invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War, perhaps his most notable foreign policy decisions were taken in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
These decisions paved the way for the re-unification of Germany. In a May 12, 1989, speech at Texas A&M University Mr. Bush declared that the time had come to end a 40-year strategy of “containing” Soviet foreign adventures and military threats and open the door to a relationship of cooperation.
It is one of the tragedies of the past 30 years that the new relationship Mr. Bush sought has not survived the emergence of a new authoritarian Russian government.
Among the many tributes to President Bush on his death, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., captures the spirit of the man’s “lifetime of extraordinary and honorable service. ... President Bush was one of the best examples of goodness, decency and bravery to ever achieve the Presidency. He is a great role model for all of us still in the fight and those who aspire to service in the future. A truly great American.”
Mr. Bush’s service to his country was enthusiastic but never boastful or brash. He was a resolute leader who also benefited from an open mind and compassion.
Leaders like George H.W. Bush sometimes seem in dismayingly short supply these days. We hope that his passing might serve as a reminder of all that is possible through humble, dedicated work, and that we as Americans would continue to embrace Mr. Bush’s vision of our country as a force for good in a turbulent world.