(CNSNews.com) – Former President George W. Bush eulogized his father, George H. W. Bush, during his funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., with a speech that demonstrated his father’s love for adventure, family, country and the personal touch he showed everyone with whom he interacted.
“I once heard it said of man that the idea is to die young as late as possible. At age 85, a favorite pastime of George H.W. Bush was firing up his boat The Fidelity and opening up the three 300 horsepower engines to fly, joyfully fly across the Atlantic with the Secret Service boats straining to keep up.
“At age 90, George H.W. Bush parachuted out of an aircraft and landed on the grounds of St. Ann’s by the Sea in Kennebunkport, Maine – the church where his mom was married and where he worshipped often. Mother liked to say he chose the location just in case the ‘chute didn’t open,” Bush said as he began the eulogy.
Bush told how his father almost died twice – once when he contracted a staph infection that nearly took his life as a teenager and “a few years later” when he was alone on a life raft in the Pacific Ocean, “praying that his rescuers would find him before the enemy did.”
Those brushes with death, Bush said, made his father cherish life and vow to live every day to the fullest.
Former President George W. Bush recounted his father’s time in the U.S. military, when as a Navy fighter pilot, his plan was shot down, and he was eventually rescued.
“And then another audacious decision. He moved his young family from the comforts of the East Coast to Odessa, Texas. He and mom adjusted to their (errant) surroundings quickly. He’s a tolerant man. After all, he was kind and neighborly to the women with whom he, mom, and I shared a bathroom in our small duplex even after he learned their profession – ladies of the night,” Bush said, to laughter from the audience.
“Dad could relate to people from all walks of life. He was an empathetic man. He valued character over pedigree, and he was no cynic. He looked for the good in each person, and he usually found it. Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary, that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values like faith and family.
“He strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and country in which one lived. He recognized that serving others enriched the giver’s soul. To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light. In victory, he shared credit. When he lost, he shouldered the blame. He accepted that failure is a part of living a full life but taught us never to be defined by failure. He showed us how setbacks can strengthen."
Bush talked about the untimely death of his sister to leukemia and how his father prayed for her daily.
“None of his disappointments could compare with one of life’s greatest tragedies – the loss of a young child. Jeb and I were too young to remember the pain and agony he and mom felt when our three-year-old sister died. We only learned later that dad, a man of quiet faith prayed for her daily. He was sustained by the love of the almighty and the real and enduring love of her mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again,” Bush said.
He talked about his father’s sense of humor and how he nurtured and sustained friendships, even with the man who defeated him during his second presidential run – former President Bill Clinton.
“He loved to laugh, especially at himself. He could tease and needle, but never out of malice. He placed great value on a good joke. That’s why he chose Simpson to speak,” Bush said, referring to former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson.
“George Bush knew how to be a true and loyal friend. He nurtured and honored his many friendships with a generous and giving soul. There exists thousands of hand-written notes encouraging or sympathizing or thanking his friends and acquaintances. He had an enormous capacity to give of himself.
“Many a person would tell you that dad became a mentor and a father figure in their life. He listened, and he consoled. He was their friend. I think of Don Rhodes, Taylor Blanton, Jim Nance, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and perhaps the unlikeliest of all the man who defeated him, Bill Clinton. My siblings and I refer to the guys in this group as brothers from other mothers."
He talked about his father’s boundless energy and how his father led by example as “a wonderful father, grandfather and great grandfather.”
“He was firm in his principles and supportive as we began to seek our own ways. He encouraged and comforted but never steered. We tested his patience. I know I did,” Bush said, followed by laughter. “But he always responded with the great gift of unconditional love.”
Bush described his last conversation with his father before he passed.
“Last Friday when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him. The guy who answered the phone said, ‘I think he can hear you, but he hadn’t said anything for most of the day.’ I said, ‘Dad, I love you, and you’ve been a wonderful father.’ And the last words he would ever say on earth were, ‘I love you too,’” Bush said.
“To us, he 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, and by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us,” he joked.
Bush recounted his father’s love for his mother, the late Barbara Bush.
“Finally, every day of his 73 years of marriage, dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband. He married his sweetheart. He adored her. He laughed and cried with her. He was dedicated to her totally. In his old age, dad enjoyed watching police show reruns, the volume on high all the while holding mom’s hand. After mom died, dad was strong, but all he really wanted to do was hold mom’s hand again,” he said.
Bush said his father also showed him what it meant to be “a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.”
“When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States, a diplomat of unmatched skill, a commander-in-chief of formidable accomplishment and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor.
“In his inaugural address, the 41st president of the United States said this: ‘We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood, and town better than he found it. What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there – that we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship.’"
“Well dad, we’re gonna remember you for exactly that and much more, and we’re gonna miss you. Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever. So 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. And in our grief, let us smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again,” Bush concluded, while getting choked up.