USA Today Images

George H.W. Bush celebrated with praise and humor at cathedral farewell

America’s 41st president memorialized by family and statesmen

December 05, 2018 - 1:16 pm
Categories: 

WASHINGTON (AP) — George H. W. Bush was celebrated with high praise and loving humor Wednesday as the nation bade farewell to the man who was America's 41st president and the last to fight for the U.S. in wartime. Three former presidents looked on at Washington National Cathedral and a fourth — George W. Bush — eulogized his dad.

The congregation, filled with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office and others touched by Bush's life, rose for the arrival of the casket, accompanied by clergy of faiths from around the world. In their row together, President Donald Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton stood with their spouses and all placed their hands over their hearts.

Bush was "the last great-soldier statesman," historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, "our shield" in dangerous times. On a light note, he added that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply cracked, "Never know. Gotta ask."

Meacham also praised Bush's call to volunteerism — his "1,000 points of light" — placing it alongside Abraham Lincoln's call to honor "the better angels of our nature" in the American rhetorical canon. Meacham called those lines "companion verses in America's national hymn."

The national funeral service capped three days of remembrance in Washington before Bush's remains return to Texas on Wednesday for burial Thursday.

A military band played "Hail to the Chief" as Bush's casket was carried down the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where he had lain in state. Family members looked on as servicemen fired off a cannon salute.

His hearse was then driven in a motorcade to the cathedral ceremony, slowing in front of the White House. Bush's route was lined with people much of the way, bundled in winter hats and taking photos.

Waiting for his arrival inside, Trump shook hands with Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who greeted him by saying "Good morning."

Bill Clinton and Mrs. Obama smiled and chatted as music played. Carter was seated silently next to Hillary Clinton in the cavernous cathedral. Obama cracked up laughing at someone's quip. Vice President Mike Pence shook Carter's hand.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that the day marked "a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life." Trump and his wife took their seats after the others, briefly greeting the Obamas seated next to them.

Also expected in the invitation-only crowd: Mike Lovejoy, a Kennebunkport electrician and fix-it man who has worked at Bush's Maine summer estate since 1990 and says he was shocked and heartened to be asked to come.

On Tuesday, soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the Capitol Rotunda to view Bush's casket and honor a president whose legacy included World War military service and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled. Former Sen. Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and one-time rival.

After the national funeral service at the cathedral, Bush's remains will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church before burial Thursday at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

Trump ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.

As at notable moments in his life, Bush brought together Republicans and Democrats in his death, and not only the VIPs.

The CIA also honored Bush, the only spy chief to become president, as three agency directors past and present joined the public in the viewing.

In the midst of the period of mourning, first lady Melania Trump gave Laura Bush, one of her predecessors, a tour of holiday decorations at the White House, a "sweet visit during this somber week," as Mrs. Bush's Instagram account put it. And the Trumps visited members of the Bush family at the Blair House presidential guesthouse, where they are staying. Former President George W. Bush and his wife greeted the Trumps outside before everyone went in for the private, 20-minute visit.

Although Trump attended Bush's service, he was not among the eulogists. They are, in addition to Bush's eldest son, Alan Simpson, the former senator and acerbic wit from Wyoming; Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who also gave a eulogy for Ronald Reagan; and presidential historian Jon Meacham.

Bush's death reduces membership in the ex-presidents' club to four: Jimmy Carter, Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Comments ()