As the 43rd president of the United States gave a tearful and emotional eulogy to his father, it was clear that George HW Bush’s legacy stretches far beyond the four years he spent as commander-in-chief.
Dozens of world leaders, including all five living US presidents, watched on as George W Bush paid an emotional tribute to the man seen by many as America’s last great soldier-statesman – the 41st president of the Unites States.
“Through our tears let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter can have,” Mr Bush Jr said at the state funeral in Washington’s National Cathedral.
Ahead of the ceremony, all eyes were on the “presidents’ row” on a pew at the front of the church, containing President Donald Trump and his wife Melania, former President Barack Obama with Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, and former President Jimmy Carter.
Mr Trump has clashed with the Obamas, while the Bush family has let its disdain for how the current administration is run be known. Mr Trump’s rival for the 2016 presidency, Ms Clinton, has come in for sustained criticism throughout the campaign and beyond. Entering last of the presidents, Mr Trump faced a stiff greeting and handshake with the Obamas, and did not greet the Clintons at all.
That was in stark contrast to Mr Bush Jr, who would sit with his family on the other side of the aisle. As he walked past presidents’ row, he appeared to give Ms Obama a small item, which many speculated was a piece of candy, repeating a gesture the two had shared during the recent funeral for senator John McCain.
Mr Bush Jr kept that spirit of levity during his eulogy. “To us, [George HW Bush] was close to perfect but not totally perfect: his short game was lousy... He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor. The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli.”
Before arriving at the National Cathedral, the presidential motorcade passed the White House, where Mr Bush Sr served as vice president from 1981 to 1989 and later as president from 1989 to 1993. His casket was lain in state inside the US Capitol for two days before the Wednesday procession.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a close friend of Mr Bush Sr, also read a eulogy at the service paying tribute to the 41st president’s military and political service.
Historian and author Jon Meacham read a eulogy describing the former president’s life in the navy, as well as several aspects of his presidency and friendship echoed by those close to Mr Bush: fiercely loyal, kind and always funny.
“His life code, as he said, was, ‘Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course’. And that was and is the most American of creeds,” he said. “That was the real George HW Bush, a loving man with a big, vibrant, all-enveloping heart.”
Mr Meacham added: “If we listen closely enough, we can hear that heartbeat even now. For it’s the heartbeat of a lion, a lion who not only led us but who loved us.”
Mr Meacham also praised Mr Bush Sr’s call to volunteerism – his “1,000 points of light” – placing it alongside Abraham Lincoln’s to honour “the better angels of our nature” in the American rhetorical canon. Mr Meacham called those lines “companion verses in America’s national hymn”.
Mr Trump had mocked “1,000 points of light” last summer at a rally, saying: “What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? And it was put out by a Republican, wasn’t it?”
Mr Meacham reportedly had the chance to read his eulogy to Mr Bush prior to his passing. It is said Mr Bush Sr’s response was: “That’s a lot about me, Jon.”
The casket containing George HW Bush was flown to Texas after the service, aboard an aircraft that often serves as Air Force One. It was designated “Special Air Mission 41” for the flight.
Mr Bush Sr will lie in repose at the St Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, until Thursday morning, where a memorial service will then be held for the former president.
Shortly after, he will be transported by funeral train to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where he will be buried with his family at the George HW Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Mourners wanting to pay their respects to former President George HW Bush began lining up outside the Houston church hours before his body arrived there.
The first people in line appeared on Wednesday morning, almost 10 hours before St Martin’s Episcopal Church was scheduled to open to visitors.
Many would take solace in the final words of Mr Bush Jr’s eulogy, which caused his voice to crack. He invoked the daughter his parents lost when she was three, and his mother, Barbara, who died in April, saying he took comfort in knowing “Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again”.
Reporting contributed by AP
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies