(CNSNews.com) - Former Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff for former President George H.W. Bush, James Baker remembered the 41st president’s life and impact on the nation and the world during a eulogy at Bush’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal in Houston, Texas, on Thursday.
Baker began his eulogy describing Bush as his “friend” and “role model,” followed by an apology.
“I must begin with an apology. Jefe, I am about to do something you always hated and that your mother always told you not to do – brag about yourself. I will do this, because it must be done and because as a lawyer, I see that thing beloved by all lawyers – a loophole,” Baker said.
“‘Don’t brag about yourself,’ you once wrote. ‘Let others point out your virtues, your good points.’ Well today, Mr. President. I am that ‘other’ with the special privilege and joy of sharing your good points,” he said.
“As we have heard, and as we know, George Bush was a charter member of the Greatest Generation. As we gather here to salute him, his incredible service to our nation and the world are already etched in the marble of time,” Baker added.
“After becoming the youngest naval aviator, he served in increasingly responsible positions on behalf of this country: congressman, ambassador to China and to the United Nations, director of the CIA and vice president. Then as history will faithfully record, he became one of our nation’s finest presidents, and beyond any doubt, our nation’s very best one-term president.
“For millions and millions across the globe, the world became a better place because George Bush occupied the White House for four years. He was not considered a skilled speaker, but his deeds were quite eloquent, and he demonstrated their eloquence by carving them into the hard granite of history.
“They expressed his moral character, and they reflected his decency – his boundless kindness and consideration of others, his determination always to do the right thing and always to do that to the very best of his ability.
“They testified to a life nobly lived. He possessed the classic virtues of our civilization and of his faith – the same virtues that expressed what is really best about this country. These same ideals were known too, and they were shared by our Founding Fathers. George Bush was temperate in thought, in word, and in deed. He considered his choices, and then he chose wisely.”
“The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, less than one year into his presidency. It was a remarkable triumph for American foreign policy. As joyous East and West Germans danced on the remains of that hated wall, George Bush could have joined them metaphorically and claimed victory for the West, for America, and frankly, for himself, but he didn’t. He knew better. He understood that humility toward and not humiliation of a fallen adversary was the very best path to peace and reconciliation.
“And so he was able to unify Germany as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization notwithstanding the initial reservations of France, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. Thus, the Cold War ended, not with a bang, but with the sound of a halliard rattling through a pulley over the Kremlin on a cold night in December 1991 as the flag of the Soviet Union was lowered for the very last time.
“Need we ask about George Bush’s courage during WWII, he risked his life in defense of something greater than himself. Decades later, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and began to brutalize Kuwaitis, George Bush never wavered.
“This will not stand,” he said, and he got the rest of the world to join him in reversing that aggression. Yes, he had the courage of a warrior, but when the time came for prudence, he always maintained the greater courage of a peacemaker. He ended the wars in Central America. He signed two nuclear arms reduction treaties, and he brought Israel and all of its Arab neighbors together face-to-face for the first time to talk peace.”
Bush’s “deeds for his fellow man always spoke for him,” Baker said.
“’Give someone else a hand,’ he would say, and he did. ‘When a friend is hurting, show that you care,’ he would say, and he did. ‘Be kind to people,’ he would say, and he was.”
“To the parents of a young son lost to cancer, he wrote: ‘I hope you will live the rest of your lives with only happy memories of that wonderful son, who is now safely tucked in, God’s loving arms around him.’”
Baker said Bush’s “wish for a kinder, gentler nation was not a cynical, political slogan.” Instead, “came honest and unguarded from his soul.”
Baker recounted the charities that Bush and first lady Barbara Bush took part in after Bush left the White House and talked about the former president’s love for his family and praised Barbara Bush as having written “the book on how to be a great first lady.”
“To these virtues, we can add one more source of his character: his family. As a friend once put it, ‘George Bush believed that family is a source of both personal strength and the values one needs to face life,’ and of course history has shown that few families have accomplished as much as his has,” he said.
“Barbara wrote the book on how to be a great first lady. His legacy lives on with his children, who have contributed so very much to making our nation great, and who knows what the future will bring for his grandchildren and their children,” Baker added.
“I’ve always been proud that George Bush used to describe our relationship as one of big brother and little brother. He used to say that one of the things he liked best about me was that I would always tell him what I thought even when I knew he didn’t want to hear it. Then we would have a spirited discussion about that issue, but he had a very effective way of letting me know when the discussion was over,” the former secretary of state said.
“He would look at me and he said, ‘Baker, if you’re smart, why am I president and you’re not?’ He was a leader, and he knew it,” Baker said.
“My hope is that in remembering the life of George Herbert Walker Bush and in honoring his accomplishments, we will see that we are really praising what is best about our nation – the nation he dearly loved and whose values he embodied. There is more to say than time permits, and anyway when measured against the eloquence of George Bush’s character and life, our words are very inadequate,” he said.
Baker closed with the words Bush wrote to an “old tennis buddy.”
“We’ve known each other a long time,” he wrote to me. “We have shared joy and sadness, and time has indeed gone swiftly by. Now it races on even faster, and that makes me treasure even more this line of William Butler Yates about where man’s glory begins and ends, namely with friends. My glory is I have you as such a friend,” to which I reply on behalf of his friends here today, across America, and throughout the world, we rejoice, Mr. President, that you are safely tucked in now and through the ages with God’s loving arms around you, because our glory, George, was to have had you as our president and as such a friend.”