WASHINGTON – Tributes to former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who died at the age of 94, poured in from around the world on Saturday as global leaders honored him for his role in helping to end the Cold War and reduce the danger of nuclear annihilation.
Bush, the 41st president of the United States who possessed one of the most impressive resumes in American political history, also routed Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army but lost his chance for a second term after breaking a no-new-taxes pledge.
“Many of my memories are linked to him,” said Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, with whom Bush signed a strategic arms reduction treaty that scaled back the two countries’ nuclear arsenals.
“We happened to work together in years of great changes. It was a dramatic time demanding huge responsibility from everyone,” Russia’s Interfax news agency cited Gorbachev as saying.
U.S. President Donald Trump paid tribute in a statement to his predecessor’s “essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family and country.”
Trump added that 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.”
Bush’s death at 10:10 p.m. CST Friday (0410 GMT Saturday) was first announced in a brief statement issued by longtime spokesman Jim McGrath. No further details about the circumstances of his death were immediately available.
The White House said a state funeral is being arranged with all of the accompanying support and honors at the National Cathedral in Washington. The president, who plans to attend the funeral with first lady Melania Trump, also designated a national day of mourning on Wednesday, Dec. 5, and ordered the lowering of the American flag for 30 days.
Bush was the father of former President George W. Bush, who served two terms in the White House in the 2000s, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Republican nomination for president. Like his sons, he was a Republican.
His death came seven months after that of his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, to whom he was married for 73 years. He was admitted to a Houston hospital with a blood infection that led to sepsis a day after her funeral in April.
“The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41’s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens,” George W. Bush said in a statement.
A U.S. naval aviator during World War Two, the elder Bush also served as vice president for eight years during Ronald Reagan’s two terms as president, before being elected to the White House himself. He lost his 1992 presidential re-election bid to Democrat Bill Clinton.
“His ethos of public service was the guiding thread of his life and an example to us all,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May. “In navigating a peaceful end to the Cold War, he made the world a safer place for generations to come.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Bush “faithfully served his country all his life – with a gun in his hand during the war years and in high government roles in peace time,” according to Russian state news agency TASS.
EXTENSIVE POLITICAL RESUME
George Herbert Walker Bush, a Connecticut Yankee who came to Texas to be an oilman, died as the patriarch of a Republican political dynasty. His son George Walker Bush was president from 2001 to 2009, making them only the second father and son to hold the office, after John Adams (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-1829).
His second son, Jeb, undertook his own campaign for the presidency in 2015 before dropping out in February 2016. Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. senator from Connecticut.
Bush had first sought the presidency in 1980, campaigning on experience gathered as a U.S. congressman from Texas, envoy to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, United Nations ambassador and chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Ronald Reagan, the former actor and California governor, vanquished Bush in the Republican primaries but chose him as his running mate, hoping Bush’s reputation as a moderate would balance his own hard, conservative image.
After two terms in the Reagan White House, Bush ran for the presidency again in 1988 and defeated Massachusetts Democrat Michael Dukakis by winning 40 of the 50 states.
The high points of Bush’s presidency included the end of the Cold War, which brought the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its hold on former Eastern Bloc countries including Poland.
“He was the only one of the world leaders at the time (who) did so much to overcome communism and help Poland,” said Lech Walesa, the former head of Poland’s independent trade union, Solidarity, who led protests and strikes that shook communist rule in the 1980s.
“He will remain in hearts and memory forever,” Walesa said via Twitter, describing Bush as “Poland’s Great Friend.”
Bush also won a decisive victory over Saddam’s Iraqi army in 1991, along with the soaring popularity it brought him at home, and made progress on Middle East peace.
“If you travel around the world today, you find his reputation in the Middle East, the Far East, in China, is still remarkably high,” former British Prime Minister John Major, Bush’s contemporary in power, told the BBC.
But Bush’s foreign affairs victories were overshadowed by a stagnant economy at home. He broke his “read my lips” pledge not to raise taxes and lost his 1992 re-election bid to Clinton.
Bush, who was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, grew up wealthy, attending elite schools but putting off college so he could enlist in the Navy at 18. He flew 58 missions off aircraft carriers in World War Two and survived being shot down over the Pacific Ocean.
After returning from the war, he married Barbara Pierce, with whom he would have six children. After he graduated from Yale University on an accelerated schedule, the Bushes headed to the oil fields of West Texas.
It was there that Bush became involved in politics, first losing a U.S. Senate race in 1964 before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966.
After two terms and another failed Senate bid in 1970, he was appointed by President Richard Nixon as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In 1974, President Gerald Ford made him an envoy to China and later director of the CIA.
Bush did not endorse fellow Republican Trump, the eventual winner of the 2016 presidential election who attacked both Jeb and George W. Bush during his campaign. He did not publicly say whom he voted for in the election, but a source told CNN he went for Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Bush did send Trump a letter in January 2017 saying he would not be able to attend his inauguration because of health concerns, but wishing him the best.
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