WASHINGTON — Americans will begin saying goodbye to former President George H.W. Bush on Monday when his body arrives in Washington for public viewing in the Capitol Rotunda — a rare honour that will be bestowed on a man who earned the respect and admiration of many with his leadership, bravery and grace.
The public viewing will kick off four days of events that will include a state funeral at Washington’s National Cathedral on Wednesday and a private service at Bush’s longtime church in Houston on Thursday. But tributes from leaders around the world have been pouring in since his death Friday night.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called him “a perfect American” for how “he served the country in so many capacities.”
“He never forgot who he was,” Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Bush’s presidency, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “He never let it all go to his head. He was a man of great humility.”
Bush, who died at his Houston home at age 94, will be buried Thursday on the grounds of his presidential library at Texas A&M University.
In Washington D.C., he will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda from 7:30 p.m. Monday to 8:45 a.m. Wednesday. President Donald Trump, who ordered federal offices closed for a national day of mourning on Wednesday, is to attend with first lady Melania Trump and other high-ranking officials.
James Baker, Bush’s former chief of staff and secretary of state, called his boss’ tenure in office “a consequential presidency” because of his foreign policy achievements.
“Yes, he’s a one-term president . but he is going to be and was a very consequential one-term president. And I would argue far and away the best one-term president we’ve ever had,” Baker told ABC’s “This Week.”
Bush’s crowning achievement as president was assembling the international military coalition that liberated the tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait from invading Iraq in 1991 in a war that lasted just 100 hours. He also presided over the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
At the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was raised in East Germany, told reporters she likely would never have become her country’s leader had Bush not pressed for the nation’s reunification in 1990.
A humble hero of World War II, Bush was just 20 when he survived being shot down during a bombing run over Japan. He enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday.
Shortly before leaving the service, he married his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, in a union that lasted until her death earlier this year.
“He knew what combat was all about,” Powell said on “This Week.” ”He knew that combat meant the death of people, people on your side and people on the other side. And so he wanted to avoid a war.”
Bush turned his attention to politics in the 1960s, being elected to his first of two terms in Congress in 1967. He would go on to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and China, head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee before being elected to two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice-president.
Soon after he reached the zenith of his political popularity following the liberation of Kuwait, the U.S. economy began to sour and voters began to believe that Bush, never a great orator, was out of touch with ordinary people. He lost his bid for re-election to then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who would later become a close friend.
It wasn’t only former political rivals Bush found easy to befriend.
Roberto Molina, whose family owns Molina’s Cantina, one of Bush’s favourite Tex-Mex restaurants in Houston, said he remembers Bush’s kindness to his staff whenever he would stop by to eat.
“No matter which party you’re affiliated with, everybody seemed to say the same things about President Bush,” Molina said. “He was a down-to-earth person, approachable, and just a good man.”