“When you look at both how he managed foreign policy and when you think about how he handled domestic policy, in each case he was thoughtful, restrained, and made good decisions,” Obama said.
On Tuesday night, appearing at Rice University with Bush’s trusted confidant James A. Baker, who served as Bush’s secretary of state, Obama said Bush’s handling of world affairs represented “as important and as deft and as effective a set of foreign-policy initiatives as we saw in recent years.” After the event, Obama visited Bush at home in Houston and delivered a pair of colorful socks, which had become a signature of the former president.
Bush was born in Massachusetts and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, the son of Prescott S. Bush, a United States senator. At 18, he enlisted in the Navy and was shot down during a combat mission in the Pacific in September 1944. He was rescued at sea by a U.S. submarine.
After the war, he attended Yale and soon moved his young family to Midland, Texas, where he started a successful career in the oil business before entering politics. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from a wealthy Houston district in 1966 and won reelection in 1968 before relinquishing the seat for an unsuccessful Senate run in 1970. He became Richard Nixon’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1971, the first of several appointed positions, including director of the CIA, that led him to the vice presidency under Ronald Reagan and ultimately to the White House, where he served as the nation’s 41st president.
In an interview with CBS in 1984, Bush described his politics this way: “I am a conservative, but I’m not a nut about it.” Comments like those didn’t endear him to conservatives, who never trusted him—and not just because of his dismissal of supply-side economics as “voodoo economics” that’s “not going to work.”
The former president enjoyed a surge in popularity after he left office—perhaps because he embodied the kind of politics and politicians that are increasingly rare. He was active in fund-raising for humanitarian causes—with Clinton, who became a friend—went skydiving on his 90th birthday, and regularly wore colorful socks that belied his perceived stiffness. Bush was awarded the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s Profile in Courage Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the latter by Obama in 2011.
In his later years, Bush suffered from ill health. In 2012 he started using a wheelchair to get around because of a form of Parkinson’s disease, and was hospitalized several times with pneumonia. His death comes just seven months after his wife of more than seven decades died. He is survived by five children—George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Neil Bush, Marvin Bush, and Dorothy Bush Koch (a sixth child, Robin, died of leukemia in 1953 at the age of 3)—and several grandchildren.
When Hager asked him in the 2012 interview about his legacy, Bush replied: “I want somebody else to define the legacy. I’ve kind of banned use of the L word. History will point out some of the things I did wrong and some of the things I did right.”