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George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts. Although his parents were quite wealthy, he was raised modestly in a family that stressed public service. As a teenager, Bush attended Phillips Academy Andover, an exclusive prep school in Massachusetts. He excelled both academically and in sports. His senior year, he served as captain of the baseball and soccer teams and class president.
He graduated on his 18th birthday in 1942 and that same day enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served as a naval aviator from 1942 until September 1945. The Navy’s youngest pilot, he flew 58 combat missions in the Pacific theater. On Sept. 2, 1944, his plane was shot down by the Japanese. He safely bailed out of his aircraft and was rescued soon after by an American submarine. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism.
While serving on active duty, Bush married the love of his life, Barbara Pierce, in 1945. They had six children, George Walker (1946- ); Robin, who was born in 1949 and died in 1953 of leukemia; John Ellis “Jeb” (1953- ); Neil (1955- ); Marvin (1956- ); and Dorothy “Doro” (1959- ).
Following his discharge from the Navy in September 1945, he enrolled at Yale University and majored in economics, graduating early in 1948. During his college years, he was active in sports and became a member of the exclusive Skull and Bones society.
Rather than staying in the Northeast and following his banker father’s footsteps, after graduation, Bush struck out for Midland, Texas. He began working in the oil industry as an equipment clerk for an oil company. Two years later, he and a friend founded their own oil business that eventually became Zapata Petroleum. As his company grew and thrived, he moved his family from Midland to Houston.
His involvement in politics began in February 1963, when he was elected as the Republican Party chairman for Harris County, Texas. His honesty, cordial demeanor and strong work ethic helped him develop good contacts within the GOP. In 1966, Bush successfully ran as a moderate Republican for the U.S. House of Representatives in Houston’s 7th district.
In December 1970, President Richard Nixon nominated Bush for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He served in that position until 1973, when Nixon asked him to lead the Republican National Committee. As GOP chair, Bush supported Nixon during the early days of the Watergate scandal. After the release of the White House tapes, however, Bush informed Nixon that as president, he had lost the support of the entire Republican Party.
After Nixon’s resignation, President Gerald Ford appointed Bush as the U.S. envoy to the People’s Republic of China. Bush and his family lived in China for two years until Ford asked him to serve as director of the CIA. In 1980, he was elected as Ronald Reagan’s vice president. Although differing on several issues, Bush and Reagan developed a good working relationship and a genuine fondness for one another.
In 1988, Bush was elected president in a landslide victory. During his presidency, he oversaw the final days of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, he successfully organized a mighty coalition that quickly resulted in a victory and saw his popularity soar. And yet, by 1992, his approval ratings had plummeted. An economic recession, his broken promise of “no new taxes” and a seemingly disinterested demeanor cost him reelection.
It was in the years following his time in the Oval Office that Bush became endeared to so many of us. Despite his loss to Bill Clinton, he remained upbeat and positive. For the most part, he remained out of the public’s eye. When asked by son, President George W. Bush, in 2004, he joined forces with former President Bill Clinton to raise money for relief efforts after an enormous tsunami hit Southeast Asia in December.
On Oct. 7, 2006, Doro Bush Koch, joined by her dad and most of the Bush family, christened the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, named in honor of the then-82-year-old former president and naval aviator. The crew of the Bush has remained close to the family ever since.
George Herbert Walker Bush died on Nov. 30. He was 94. He joins in death his beloved wife, Barbara, who passed away in April. We mourn at the passing of a good man, one of America’s best. We bid him fair winds and following seas.