George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd, was a steadfast force on the international stage for decades, from his stint as an envoy to Beijing to his eight years as vice president and his one term as commander in chief from 1989 to 1993.
The last veteran of World War II to serve as president, he was a consummate public servant and a statesman who helped guide the nation and the world out of a four-decade Cold War that had carried the threat of nuclear annihilation.
His death, at 94 on Nov. 30 also marked the passing of an era. Especially with the horrible example we currently have in the White House.
His currency of personal connection was the handwritten letter — not the social media blast.
He was an honors graduate of Yale University who was often at a loss for words in public, especially when it came to talking about himself. Though he was tested in combat when he was barely out of adolescence, he was branded “a wimp” by those who doubted whether he had essential convictions.
Mr. Bush came to the Oval Office under the hugely once popular shadow of Ronald Reagan, a onetime rival for whom he had served as vice president.
No president before had arrived with his breadth of experience: decorated Navy pilot, successful oil executive, congressman, United Nations delegate, Republican Party chairman, envoy to Beijing, director of Central Intelligence.
Over the course of a single term that began on Jan. 20, 1989, Mr. Bush found himself at the helm of the world’s only remaining superpower. The Berlin Wall fell; the Soviet Union ceased to exist; the communist bloc in Eastern Europe broke up; the Cold War ended.
His firm, restrained diplomatic sense helped assure the harmony and peace with which these world-shaking events played out, one after the other.
In 1990, Mr. Bush went so far as to proclaim a new world-order would be “free from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace — a world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”
George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Mass., on June 12, 1924. He grew up in tony Greenwich, Conn., the second of five children of Prescott Bush and the former Dorothy Walker.
His father was an Ohio native and business executive who became a Wall Street banker and a senator from Connecticut, setting a course for the next two generations of Bush men to follow. His mother, a Maine native, was the daughter of a wealthy investment banker.
Mr. Bush’s early years were hard ones for the country, although his family — which had a cook, a maid and a chauffeur — felt none of it. He attended the private Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. The close-knit Bushes spent summers at the family house at Walker’s Point, Maine, and Christmases at his grandfather’s shooting lodge in South Carolina.
At a prep school party during the 1941 Christmas season, he spotted a girl in a red-and-green dress. He asked another boy to introduce him to Barbara Pierce, whose father was head of the McCall’s publishing empire.
“I thought he was the most beautiful creature I had ever laid eyes on. I couldn’t even breathe when he was in the room,” Barbara Bush would later say, adding, “I married the first man I ever kissed.”
Prescott Bush wanted his son to go right to Yale upon graduation from Andover. But Mr. Bush said his father had also insisted that privilege carried a responsibility to “put something back in, do something, help others.”
His own time to serve came on his 18th birthday, when he enlisted in the Navy; within a year, he received his wings and became one of the youngest pilots in the service.
Sent to the Pacific, he flew torpedo bombers off the aircraft carrier San Jacinto. On Sept. 2, 1944, his plane was hit by Japanese ground fire during a bombing run on Chichi Jima in the Bonin Islands in the western Pacific. He pressed his attack even though his plane was aflame.
Mr. Bush bailed out over the ocean and was rescued by a submarine. His two crewmen were killed. The future president was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the war, he went to Yale, where he was a member of Skull and Bones, the university’s storied secret society, and captain of the baseball team. Barbara took their baby son, George W., to the games.
In 1948, following his graduation, he was rejected for a post he wanted with Procter & Gamble. So he moved to Texas to go into the oil business, snagging an entry-level job through a family connection.
Mr. Bush began his political career as chairman of the Harris County Republican Party at a time when being a Republican in Texas was as much an electoral liability as having Northeastern roots.
In 1964, he ran for the U.S. Senate and was defeated. In 1966, after selling his interest in his oil company, Mr. Bush was elected to the first of two terms in Congress from a House district in Houston.
He was disappointed when Nixon’s successor, Gerald R. Ford (R), chose Nelson Rockefeller, rather than him, as vice president in 1974. In 1974 and 1975, Mr. Bush was the chief U.S. envoy to China. In early 1976, he became head of the CIA. He was well regarded but left no great mark in any of those jobs. Nor did he commit any major blunders.
After former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter (D) defeated Ford in the 1976 presidential election, Mr. Bush returned to private life and began preparing for his most audacious move yet: a run for president.
During the 1980 primaries, Mr. Bush positioned himself as a moderate, pragmatic alternative to Reagan, and he derided as “voodoo economics” the former California governor’s vow to simultaneously cut taxes, boost defense spending and balance the budget.
On Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall, a symbol of communist oppression, was breached. East Germany collapsed. Two years later, the Soviet Union voted itself out of existence.
In the years after the White House, Mr. Bush wrote his memoirs and divided his time between Houston and the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he was a vestryman of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church. He chose College Station, the home of Texas A&M University, as the site of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
After the earthquake and tsunami that devastated African and Asian nations in 2005, Mr. Bush collaborated with Bill Clinton, his former adversary, to lead private relief efforts that raised nearly $2 billion in the United States.
In 1997, Mr. Bush made a parachute jump for the first time since bailing out over the Pacific. He did it again in 2000 to mark his 75th birthday — and still again for his 80th, 85th and 90th ones.