WASHINGTON (AP/RNN) — The nation’s capital bid its final farewell to the late president, George H.W. Bush, in a service of prayer and praise that drew together world envoys, Americans of high office and a guy from Maine who used to fix things in Bush’s house on the water.
Bush, 94, died Friday.
In his eulogy at Washington National Cathedral, former President George W. Bush mixed humor and seriousness in talking of his father.
“He was a genuinely optimistic man. ... He strongly believed it was important to give back ... For us, his was the brightest of the thousand points of light,” Bush said. “He valued character over pedigree and he was not a cynic. He looked for the good in everybody, and usually he found it.”
Later, Bush’s body was flown to Texas where it was met with an arrival ceremony that included a canon salute and the playing of “Hail to the Chief,” as has been the case wherever he has landed this week.
He will now lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston before a funeral service on Thursday, where his grandson George P. Bush will be among the speakers.
He will then be laid to rest at the family plot at his presidential library alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age 3.
At Wednesday’s state funeral, the 43rd president spoke of the example of service his father set.
“‘We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account,” George W. Bush said. "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.’”
He also lauded his father’s boundless energy: “He was born with just two settings, full throttle and sleep,”
“After mom died, dad was strong, but all he really wanted to do was hold mom’s hand again,” he said. “In our grief, I just smile knowing that dad is hugging mom, and holding mom’s hand again.”
In his homily, Rev. Russell Levenson told of George H.W. Bush’s final moments, “a beautiful end to a beautiful life. ... He was so ready to go to heaven, and heaven was so ready to receive him.”
The service started with a retelling of Bush’s wartime heroism from biographer Jon Meacham. He told of Bush being shot down while a Naval pilot during World War II, which could have ended in his death.
His crew didn’t survive, and from that moment, Bush felt that his life was not his own, Meacham said.
“George Herbert Walker Bush was America’s last great soldier statesman, a 20th century founding father,” he said.
He also compared Bush with President Abraham Lincoln: “For Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the convenient, to hope rather than to fear and to heed not our worst impulses but our best instincts.”
Meacham recounted how comedian Dana Carvey once said that the key to doing a perfect impersonation of the 41st president was “Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.”
Jenna Bush Hager, the granddaughter of George H.W. Bush and the daughter of George W. Bush, read a Bible verse. As she read, her voice was rich with emotion.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, whose term in office coincided with Bush’s term in the White House, also paid tribute to the president, citing his humor and fastidiousness.
He credited Bush for his role in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the North American Free Trade Agreement, an agreement that President Donald Trump has condemned.
Former Sen. Alan Simpson, with touches of humor, recalled his relationship with Bush, including having to not support him in his bid for the presidency in 1980 because he had already committed to Ronald Reagan. Bush became Reagan’s vice president.
Simpson assured those in the audience: “Relax. George told me I only had 10 minutes.”
The former senator alluded to Bush’s inability to tell jokes, and his dedication to service that led him to becoming a one-term president - going back on his “read my lips - no new taxes” pledge, which Simpson said caused his own party to turn their back on him.
“Those who take the high road of humility in Washington DC are not bothered by heavy traffic,” Simpson said.
The four living ex-presidents were in attendance. President Trump attended but did not speak.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter were seated alongside Trump in a front-row pew.
In a touching moment, George W. Bush, while greeting the dignitaries, offered a smiling Michelle Obama a candy, a callback to the funeral of Sen. John McCain a couple of months earlier.
Trump walked in and shook hands with the Obamas, who greeted him by saying “Good morning.” Trump did not shake hands with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who looked straight ahead.
Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama smiled and chatted as music played. Carter sat next to Hillary Clinton in the cavernous cathedral.
One king (Jordan), one queen (Jordan), two princes (Britain, Bahrain), Germany’s chancellor and Poland’s president were all in attendance, among representatives of more than a dozen countries.
As at notable moments in his life, Bush brought together Republicans and Democrats in his death, and not only the VIPs.
Also invited was Mike Lovejoy, a Kennebunkport electrician and fix-it man who has worked at Bush’s Maine summer estate since 1990 and said he was shocked and heartened to be asked to come.
Family, friends, congressional leaders and others gathered with military brass on the steps of the Capitol at the conclusion of the lying in state Wednesday as cannons echoed a salute and a military band played “Hail to the Chief.”
The ceremony Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral, the nexus of state funerals, capped three days of remembrance by dignitaries and ordinary citizens as they honored the Republican president who oversaw the post-Cold War transition and led a successful Gulf War, only to lose re-election in a generational shift to Clinton in 1992.
On Tuesday, soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the hushed Capitol Rotunda to view Bush's casket and honor a president whose legacy included World War military service and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled. Former Sen. Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and one-time rival.
Trump ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.
Members of the public who never voted for the man waited in the same long lines Tuesday as the rest, attesting that Bush possessed the dignity and grace that deserved to be remembered by their presence on a cold overcast day in the capital.
"I'm just here to pay my respects," said Jane Hernandez, a retired physician in the heavily Democratic city and suburbs. "I wasn't the biggest fan of his presidency, but all in all he was a good, sincere guy doing a really hard job as best he could."
Bush’s service dog, Sully, was brought to the viewing, too.
Inside the Capitol, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever sat by the casket in the company of people who came to commemorate Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1990 law that, among its many provisions, required businesses that prohibit pets to give access to service dogs.
“After Mrs. Bush’s death, general companionship was a big part of Sully’s job,” John Miller, president and CEO of America’s VetDogs, said in a phone interview. “One of the things that I think was important to the president was the rest command, where Sully would rest his head on the president’s lap.”
The CIA also honored Bush, the only spy chief to become president, as three agency directors past and present joined the public in the viewing.
People lined up before dawn to pay respects to the 41st president, a son and father of privilege now celebrated by everyday citizens for his common courtesies and depth of experience.
"He was so qualified, and I think he was just a decent man," said Sharon Terry, touring Washington with friends from an Indianapolis garden club. Said her friend Sue Miller, also in line for the viewing: "I actually think I underestimated him when he was in office. My opinion of him went up seeing how he conducted himself as a statesman afterward."
Fred Curry, one of the few African-Americans in line, is a registered Democrat from Hyattsville, Maryland, who voted for Bush in 1988, the election won by the one-term president. "Honestly I just liked him," he said. "He seemed like a sincere and decent man and you couldn't argue with his qualifications."
Dignitaries had come forward on Monday, too, to honor the Texan whose service to his country extended three quarters of a century, from World War II through his final years as an advocate for volunteerism and relief for people displaced by natural disaster.
Trump's relationship with the Bush family has been tense. The current president has mocked the elder Bush for his "thousand points of light" call to volunteerism, challenged his son's legacy as president and trounced "low-energy" Jeb Bush in the Republican presidential primaries en route to office.
The late President Bush called Trump a “blowhard.”
Those insults were set aside, but the list of funeral service speakers marked the first time since Lyndon Johnson’s death in 1973 that a sitting president was not tapped to eulogize a late president. (Clinton did so for Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush eulogized Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.)
Bush's death reduces membership in the ex-presidents' club to four: Jimmy Carter, Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
See AP’s complete coverage of George H.W. Bush here: https://www.apnews.com/GeorgeHWBush