Former US President George H.W. Bush dies at the age of 94

Former US President George H.W. Bush dies at the age of 94


Former U.S. president George Herbert Walker Bush, the businessman-turned-politician who vowed to propel the country toward “a thousand points of light,” has died at age 94.

Family spokesperson Jim McGrath says Bush died shortly after 10 p.m. CT Friday, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush.

Bush, president from 1989 to 1993 and father to former president George W. Bush, was elected the 41st president after promising to usher in a “kinder, gentler America.”

He also made it a top priority to have good relations with Canada and his friend, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney. On his first trip to Ottawa as president, Bush assured Mulroney he would soon introduce environmental legislation to curb acid rain, paving the way for a bilateral accord with Canada.

Speaking to reporters, the president even offered a little French, welcoming a prompt for a final question with a playful “C’est fine pour moi.”

But, shivering in sub-zero cold, Bush quickly added in English: “It’s colder than hell.”

Young pilot

George Herbert Walker Bush was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Mass., and raised in Greenwich, Conn.

His father, Prescott Bush, was a Wall Street lawyer and Republican senator.

The future president’s mother, Dorothy, was the daughter of a wealthy Missouri stockbroker.

Bush joined the Second World War effort in 1942, becoming, at age 18, the navy’s youngest pilot. He flew 58 missions over the Pacific Ocean, including one where his plane was shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft fire.

Bush is pictured in the cockpit of his TBM Avenger during World War II. (White House/AFP/Getty Images)


Bush was rescued by a passing U.S. submarine and later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action.

After the war, Bush married Barbara Pierce in January 1945. Barbara Bush died on April 17, 2018, at age 92.

The couple had six children: George, John (Jeb), Neil, Marvin, Dorothy and Robin, who died of leukemia at age three.

Bush went to Yale University where he studied history, captained the baseball team and joined the secretive Skull and Bones society.

In 1953, he moved his family to west Texas where he co-founded Zapata Petroleum and became president of the Zapata Offshore Company.

Political persistence

Bush’s first foray into politics came in 1964, when he lost a bid for the Senate, but the young Republican won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1966.

Bush lost a second run for the Senate in 1970.

The Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford administrations appointed Bush to posts including UN ambassador, envoy to China and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

After a return to business, Bush lost a bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination but was chosen as Ronald Reagan’s vice-presidential running mate.

They won, and repeated the victory in 1984.

As vice-president, Bush faced controversy when critics scrutinized his role in the Iran-Contra Affair, in which the Reagan government funded insurgent Sandinistas in Nicaragua using money from the sale of arms to Iran.

In 1988, Bush took up the presidential challenge, making a statement in his Republican nomination speech that would become a rhetorical touchstone for him.

“I will keep America moving forward, always forward, for a better America, for an endless enduring dream and a thousand points of light,” he told the crowd in New Orleans.

Bush was elected president with 53 per cent of the popular vote on Nov. 8, 1988, winning with running mate Dan Quayle over Democrat Michael Dukakis and promising a “kinder, gentler America” with more wealth for the middle and working classes.

President Bush

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 most months than Reagan did in most years.

The Iraq crisis of 1990-91 brought out all the skills Bush had honed in a quarter-century of politics and public service.

After winning United Nations support and a green light from a reluctant Congress, Bush unleashed a punishing air war against Iraq and a five-day ground juggernaut that sent Iraqi forces reeling in disarray back to Baghdad. He basked in the biggest outpouring of patriotism and pride in America’s military since World War II, and his approval ratings soared to nearly 90 percent.

The other battles he fought as president, including a war on drugs and a crusade to make American children the best educated in the world, were not so decisively won.

It was Bush’s violation of a different pledge, the no-new-taxes promise, that helped sink his bid for a second term. He abandoned the idea in his second year, cutting a deficit-reduction deal that angered many congressional Republicans and contributed to GOP losses in the 1990 midterm elections.

Bush failed to rein in the deficit, which had tripled to $3 trillion under Reagan and galloped ahead by as much as $300 billion a year under Bush, who put his finger on it in his inauguration speech: “We have more will than wallet.”

Seven years of economic growth ended in mid-1990, just as the Gulf crisis began to unfold. Bush insisted the recession would be “short and shallow,” and lawmakers did not even try to pass a jobs bill or other relief measures.

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.

The 1992 Campaign

In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Bush fought the impression that he was distant and disconnected, and he seemed to struggle against the younger, more empathetic Clinton.

During a campaign visit to a grocers’ convention, Bush reportedly expressed amazement when shown an electronic checkout scanner. Critics seized on the moment, saying it indicated that the president had become disconnected from voters.

Later at a town-hall style debate, he paused to look at his wristwatch — a seemingly innocent glance that became freighted with deeper meaning because it seemed to reinforce the idea of a bored, impatient incumbent.

In the same debate, Bush became confused by a woman’s question about whether the deficit had affected him personally. Clinton, with apparent ease, left his seat, walked to the edge of the stage to address the woman and offered a sympathetic answer.

Bush said the pain of losing in 1992 was eased by the warm reception he received after leaving office.

“I lost in ’92 because people still thought the economy was in the tank, that I was out of touch and I didn’t understand that,” he said in an AP interview shortly before the dedication of his presidential library in 1997. “The economy wasn’t in the tank, and I wasn’t out of touch, but I lost. I couldn’t get through this hue and cry for ‘change, change, change’ and ‘The economy is horrible, still in recession.

Life after the White House

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.

He became the patriarch of one of the nation’s most prominent political families. In addition to George W. becoming president, another son, Jeb, was elected Florida governor in 1998 and made an unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.



With files from CBC and Associated Press 

Ben O'HaraBen O'Hara

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