If you want to know the truth about the life a person lived, listen to what people say about them when they’re gone. Because while moments in the present often fade away quickly, genuine legacy echoes.
In the case of George Herbert Walker Bush, those echoes will be heard for generations.
As much as any American President in history, George H.W. Bush lived his life in service to his country. It started at 18 when in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bush put aside his university studies and enlisted in the United States Navy becoming one of the Navy’s youngest aviators. On September 2, 1944, then Lieutenant Bush was given orders to pilot one of four planes tasked with attacking a Japanese installation in the Bonin Islands. During the attack, Bush’s plane was hit repeatedly but he still managed to drop his bombs scoring a number of direct hits. With his engine on fire, Bush navigated the jet a number of miles away from the islands where he and another crewman bailed out into the ocean. Sadly, his fellow crewman’s parachute did not open. For four hours, Bush waited in an inflated raft until he was rescued by the submarine U.S.S. Finback. It was an experience that shaped the rest of Bush’s life as he would repeatedly ask, “Why Me?” and “What must God have in store for my life?”
In 1945, Bush was honorably discharged from the Navy. By the end, he had flown 58 combat missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals and the Presidential Unit Citation. For any man, a lifetime of achievement and recognition. But for George Bush, simply the beginning.
In 1945, two extraordinary things happened in George Bush’s life. He enrolled at Yale University and he married the one true love of his life, his wife Barbara. 1948 brought graduation and a move to West Texas where Bush entered the oil business. He made his first million by his 40th birthday, and yet business was not Bush’s calling. That was reserved for serving his country – something George Bush would do for the rest of his life.
In 1966, George Bush was elected to the first of two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Then in 1970, President Nixon appointed Bush to be Ambassador to the United Nations. He served at the U.N. until 1973 when he became chairman of the Republican National Committee. A year later, President Ford named George Bush the head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Beginning in 1980, Bush served two terms as the 43rd Vice President of the United States under Ronald Reagan and in 1988, defeated Michael Dukakis to become the 41st President of the United States. He was the first incumbent vice president to win the presidency in 152 years. During his presidency, the Berlin Wall came crumbling down in Germany and two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed. There was uncertainty in Europe. Looking back, many historians and fellow presidents including President Obama have noted how chaotic those events could have been for the world and that the restraint, caution and leadership President Bush showed through those years doesn’t get enough attention, or appreciation. It was a time of unrest and in the U.S., a time of widespread recession. As a result, Bush lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton in 1992, but in many ways, now outside the crucible of power and politics, that’s when the country got to see the President’s true heart for country and service.
At 70, President Bush could have retired to a quiet life of reflection, enjoying his five children and 17 grandchildren. Instead, he stepped forward in support of numerous bipartisan philanthropic efforts, continuing his service to country with even-keeled wisdom as America’s elder statesman. It was during this time that he also developed a relationship with President Clinton, becoming in essence, the surrogate father Bill Clinton had never had. It started with the letter President Bush left for Clinton on the desk in the Oval Office the day he left the White House for the last time.
Jan. 20, 1993
When I walked into this office just now, I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice, but just don’t let the critics discourage you, or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you. Good luck.
In the acrimonious political climate we live in presently, it’s easy to forget that magnanimous humility once played a major role in American leadership. And that great leaders, were also good men. To date, only 45 men have ever held the position of President of the United States and George H.W. Bush lived longer than any of them – 94 years, 171 days. The only thing more impressive than that, was the 73 years he was married to his beloved Barbara who passed away earlier this year in April. It was the accomplishment he was most proud of.
A war hero. A family man. Head of the C.I.A.. Vice President. President. Father to a Governor. Father to a President. It’s an incredible life of service that we’re proud to honor today as “41” is laid to rest on the West Campus at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Never one to prop himself up, Bush always deflected when asked about his legacy saying he would rather let others point out the things he did wrong and some of the things he got right. For his son, President George W. Bush, his father’s legacy is clear.
“The mission was not George H.W. Bush,” he said. “The mission was, how do we serve the United States. People, if they analyze not only his accomplishments, but his character, they’ll say job well done George H.W. Bush.”
You want to know the truth about the life a person lived? Listen to what people say about them when they’re gone. Listen today what people are saying about President Bush. You’ll hear the echoes as they ring into eternity.
MIKE SULLIVAN is president at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a leading advertising agency in Dallas. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other things that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on any of our more than 300 posts.
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