George H.W. Bush will be remembered as a New Englander whose presidency soared with the U.S. military victory over Iraq in Kuwait before a weakening economy prompted voters to oust him after just one term.
The 41st president of the United States died at 10:10 p.m. Central time on Nov. 30 aged 94, according to an official statement from spokesman Jim McGrath. Bush outlived his wife of more than 70 years, Barbara, who passed away in April 2018.
Elected officials and celebrities of both parties publicly expressed their fondness. President Donald Trump said in a post to Twitter his predecessor will be remembered for his authenticity, wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country.
“President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service-to be, in his words, ‘a thousand points of light’ illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world,” Trump said.
Statement from President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on the Passing of Former President George H.W. Bush pic.twitter.com/qxPsp4Ggs7
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 1, 2018
The World War II hero presided during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the final months of the Cold War. In his post-presidency, Bush’s popularity rebounded with a growing reputation as a fundamentally decent, and well-meaning leader who, although he was not a stirring orator or a dreamy visionary, was a steadfast humanitarian.
George H.W. Bush entered the White House in 1989 with a reputation as a man of indecision and indeterminate views. One newsmagazine suggested he was a “wimp.”
But his work-hard, play-hard approach to the presidency won broad public approval. He held more news conferences in more months than Reagan did in years.
Communism began to crumble on his watch, with the Berlin Wall coming down, the Warsaw Pact disintegrating and the Soviet satellites falling out of orbit.
He seized leadership of the NATO alliance with a bold and ultimately successful proposal for deep troop, and tank cuts in Europe. Huge crowds cheered him on a triumphal tour through Poland and Hungary.
Beginnings as a New England Elite
George Herbert Walker Bush was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, a world of prep schools, mansions, and servants seemingly untouched by the Great Depression.
His father, Prescott Bush, the son of an Ohio steel magnate, made his fortune as an investment banker and later served 10 years as a senator from Connecticut.
George H.W. Bush enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday in 1942, right out of prep school. He returned home to marry his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, daughter of the publisher of McCall’s magazine, in January 1945. They were the longest-married presidential couple in U.S. history.
Lean and athletic at 6-foot-2, Bush became a war hero while still a teenager. One of the youngest pilots in the Navy, he flew 58 missions off the carrier USS San Jacinto.
He had to ditch one plane in the Pacific and was shot down on Sept. 2, 1944, while completing a bombing run against a Japanese radio tower. An American submarine rescued Bush. His two crew mates perished. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery.
After the war, Bush took just 2.5 years to graduate from Yale, then headed west in 1948 to the oil fields of West Texas. Bush and partners helped found Zapata Petroleum Corp. in 1953. Six years later, he moved to Houston and became active in the Republican Party.
In politics, he showed the same commitment he displayed in business, advancing his career through loyalty and subservience.
Bush approached old age with gusto, celebrating his 75th and 80th birthdays by skydiving over College Station, Texas, the home of his presidential library. He did it again on his 85th birthday in 2009, parachuting near his oceanfront home in Kennebunkport, Maine. He used his presidential library at Texas A&M University as a base for keeping active in civic life.
Reuters contributed to this report.