WASHINGTON — Former President George H.W. Bush was honored as the “brightest of a thousand points of light” in a eulogy delivered Wednesday by his son, former President George W. Bush.
“Through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you. A great a noble man. The best father a son or daughter can have,” a visibly emotional Bush said from the pulpit of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Aside from paying tribute to his father, Bush also mourned the loss of a fellow president, telling the assembled dignitaries that the elder Bush “showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.”
“When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States, a diplomat of unmatched skill, a commander-in-chief of formidable accomplishment, and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor,” Bush said.
As he concluded his remarks, Bush became choked up and had to pause for a moment. As he returned to his seat, the mourners broke protocol and applauded as a show of support.
The former president’s assessment of his father’s place in history was one clearly shared by the ceremony’s attendees, who included dignitaries from the U.S. and abroad.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who served while George H.W. Bush was in office, lauded the late president for helping all Americans by overseeing the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act.
Mulroney added that history will eventually show that “no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honorable than George Herbert Walker Bush.”
Former Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wy.) spoke to the value Bush placed in friendship and humor.
“He loved a good joke, the richer the better,” Simpson said. “But he could never, ever remember a punchline. And I mean never.”
Simpson joked that this was “a very serious flaw known by all close to him.”
Presidential historian Jon Meacham, Bush’s biographer, spoke to the larger themes in the president’s life, reflecting on the late president’s military service, foreign policy accomplishments and deep love for former First Lady Barbara Bush, who passed away April 17.
“He had the most wonderful of allies in Barbara Pierce Bush, his wife of 73 years. He called her ‘Barb,’ ‘the silver fox’ and, when the situation warranted, ‘the enforcer,’ ” Meacham said. “He was the only boy she ever kissed.
“Her children, Mrs. Bush liked to say, always wanted to throw up when they heard that,” Meacham quipped.
Bush, who served as president from 1989-1993, died Friday at the age of 94.
His passing was met with nationwide mourning and brought much of Washington, D.C.,’s partisan bickering to a temporary standstill.
The détente in politics-as-usual was largely reflected in Wednesday’s ceremony.
The cathedral’s first pew was occupied by President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter as well as former First Ladies Michelle Obama, Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Clinton, whom Trump bested in the 2016 presidential race.
While there has been bad blood between Trump and both the Obamas and Clintons, the politicians kept a largely civil demeanor, including a moment in which Trump shook hands with both of the Obamas.
Bush’s casket departed the cathedral after the ceremony and headed to Andrews Air Force Base. En route, the procession will pass the World World II Memorial. Bush was the last president who was a veteran of that war.
After lying in state since Monday evening, the former president’s remains will ultimately make their way to his presidential library in College Park, Texas, which will mark his final resting place. Bush will be buried next to his late wife and their daughter, Pauline Robinson Bush. Robin, as she was known, died of leukemia in 1953 at the age of 3. The former president had said he looked forward to being reunited with Robin after he passed.