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Our 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush passed away quietly at his home in Houston this past evening. He was 94 years old. His legacy is multifaceted yet in contrast to today’s political discourse his integrity stands out. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s described Bush as “great in his character, leading with decency and integrity.” Integrity defined by linguists focus on two character elements: adhering to a set of moral principles and character definition. Integrity is seen in leaders who are humble enough to continuously learn from their mistakes, listen to others and are honest to themselves and others.
Former President Barack Obama noted about President Bush’s life that he was:
“a patriot and humble servant with a legacy of service that may never be matched, even though he’d want all of us to try.”
“While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Not merely for the years he spent as our forty-first President, but for the more than 70 years he spent in devoted service to the country he loved.”
Bush demonstrated a level of dedicated service to his country that few have matched. He was the youngest Navy aviator to fly in WWII. Shot down over the Pacific he was rescued. Later he continued a career of public service in the House of Representatives, Ambassador to the U.N., U.S. Envoy to China, Director of the CIA and Vice – President among many positions he held in 70 years of public service.
His service did not stop at his one term presidency. One unusual partnership developed 20 years after his presidency with the man who pushed him out of office, Bill Clinton. In 2004, Bush’s son George W. Bush asked his father and Clinton to tour the devastation after a huge tsunami hit Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. They discovered during the two week tour how much they had in common including an unlikely support of several education programs. After Hurricane Katrina in 2008 they two joined together in raising over $130 million in relief. When the program eventually was not needed, the funds were distributed evenly to the two men who then gave them to charities in the U.S. Gulf coast region. Bush observed on his relationship with Clinton that “politics does not have to be mean and ugly”. Seems like light years ago from our perspective today.
Reflecting on the recent death of another great Navy flyer, Senator John McCain, it seems impossible to miss that with the passing of these two men our country is losing not just the people but the values of service and integrity they exemplified. We hope during this coming week of memorials and remembrances that George H.W. Bush’s character traits of selfless service, integrity, honor and a humble love of all people is reborn, not lost on this generation.