The nation put its business on hold and paused to honor the late 41st president of the United States on Wednesday, December 5. President Trump, former Presidents Obama, Bush 43, Clinton, and Carter and five current and former vice presidents were among the well-wishers who filled Washington’s National Cathedral to pay final respects to George Herbert Walker Bush in a state funeral with full military honors.
December 5 has been designated a national day of mourning, with the federal government taking the day off, mail service suspended, and the stock market closed.
Soaring eulogies and personal remembrances of “Poppy” Bush were delivered by his son George W. Bush, former Sen. Alan Simpson, and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, contemporaries of the 41st president.
Bush biographer Jon Meacham was the first to speak, blending tribute with humor. He commenced with the details of Bush’s near-death experience as a Navy pilot in 1944, then pivoted to a memorable quote from legendary Bush impersonator Dana Carvey describing Bush’s much-imitated style of speech as “Mister Rogers trying to be John Wayne.” Meacham called Bush the embodiment of the biblical imperative, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
Next to speak was Mulroney, who focused on his friendship and work with Bush on stabilizing the world following the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union, which he described as “the most epochal event of the 20th century.” He lauded the 41st president for the reunification of East and West Germany and went on to note Bush’s central role in passing the Clean Air Act and other environmental initiatives.
When Simpson arrived at the podium, the congregation knew to expect a generous display of the former Wyoming senator’s sharp wit, and they were not disappointed, as he dispensed a series of humorous one-liners. He described Bush as a “class act” as he shared self-effacing stories about how Bush’s popularity soared following the Gulf War while Simpson’s declined, and how Bush stayed loyal and protective. Simpson ruefully recounted the story of how Bush had to swallow a tax increase in return for Gulf War funding, a decision which contributed heavily to his defeat by Bill Clinton and his legacy as a one-term president.
The final eulogy was delivered by Bush 43, who spoke of the ideal that one should “die young as late as possible” and used his father’s proclivity for speedboating and “speed golf” as a launching pad to describe Bush 41’s restless, ever-active lifestyle. He described his father as bright, hopeful, and perpetually optimistic. Choking back emotion, the 43rd president said of the 41st, whom he adored, that he was “almost perfect” and that “his was the brightest of the thousand points of light.” He finally broke down at the conclusion of his eulogy when discussing his father’s reunion with his late wife Barbara and daughter Robin, who died as an infant.
Much attention was focused on the arrival of President Trump, but he was greeted graciously, if not warmly, by his predecessor Barack Obama and wife Michelle, who were seated next to the president and First Lady Melania Trump. Bill Clinton greeted Melania. Hillary Clinton stared straight ahead, stone-faced.
Like John McCain, who was given a state funeral just over three months ago, Bush apparently choreographed his own final tribute, selecting everything from the eulogists to the music. But unlike the McCain funeral, there were no political statements or veiled attacks on the 45th president.
He will be buried in his home state of Texas, alongside his wife, Barbara.