George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, passed away at the age of 94 on Friday. The former president died nearly eight months after the passing of his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush.
President Bush passed away at 10:10 p.m. at his home in Houston, according to family spokesman Jim McGrath, who released the following statement from his son, former President George W. Bush:
“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Door, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died. George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for. The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41’s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”
Bush, a Republican who was president from Jan. 20, 1989 to Jan. 20, 1993, was the oldest living president in history, four months older than former President Jimmy Carter. He is survived by five of his six children, including a former president and a former governor, and 14 grandchildren.
The former president was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Mass., to Dorothy Bush and Prescott Sheldon Bush, an investment banker and later Republican U.S. senator for the state of Connecticut. He was named after his mother’s father, George Herbert Walker, and joined the U.S. Navy six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He would climb to the rank of lieutenant and become a naval aviator, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross, a presidential citation and three air medals. He married Barbara Pierce in 1945, and later graduated from Yale University with a degree in economics.
“Happiest of birthdays to Barbara Pierce of Rye, NY,” Bush wrote on Twitter in June 2017. “I’m still the luckiest guy in the world.” The tweet was pinned to the top of his Twitter page at the moment of his passing.
Bush unsuccessfully ran for president against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, and was Reagan’s vice president for two terms. He previously served two terms in Congress representing Texas’ 7th District and, in 1971, was appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations by President Richard Nixon. Her later served as ambassador to China, chaired the Republican National Committee for two years and was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency for one year.
“As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life,” Bush said.
In 1988, Bush won the presidency by defeating former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. His tenure would see the implosion of the Soviet Union and crumbling of the Berlin Wall, the defeat of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement and appointment of Supreme Court Justices David Souter and Clarence Thomas. Despite high popularity ratings at the conclusion of the war, however, his presidency could not withstand a weakening economy and, in the 1992 election, a third-party challenge from Texas billionaire Ross Perot.
Bush would lose reelection in 1992 to Democratic Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. On the day of Clinton’s inauguration, Bush left him a note in the Oval Office, which read:
“Dear Bill, When I walked into this office just now, I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too. I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described. There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism that you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or drive you off course.
“You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting for you. Good luck – George.”
President Bush’s post-presidency years saw the development of a deep friendship with Clinton, with whom he later partnered for humanitarian causes, including the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We’re most anxious to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Bush said after the tsunami. “It will take all of us working together to accomplish our goal.”
The former chief executive’s later years were productive, and he even showed off his vitality by celebrating his 90th birthday by skydiving from a helicopter. In 2011, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, but things began to slow down for him after a neck injury in 2015. After several health scares, Bush was confined to a wheelchair in his final days.
“We know what works. Freedom works,” Bush said in his inaugural address. “We know what’s right. Freedom is right.”