Former President George H.W. Bush dead at 94
George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, has died at age 94.
His death was announced by his family Friday night on Twitter. The president’s health had been in decline in recent months.
“George Herbert Walker Bush, World War II naval aviator, Texas oil pioneer, and 41st President of the United States of America, died on November 30, 2018. He was 94 and is survived by his five children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren, eight great grandchildren, and two siblings,” the former president’s office said in a statement. “He was preceded in death by his wife of 73 years, Barbara; his second child Pauline “Robin” Bush; and his brothers Prescott and William or “Bucky” Bush.”
His son George W. Bush, who served as the country’s 43rd president, released a statement of his own from the family.
“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died,” George W. Bush said. “George H. W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for. 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.”
The family said funeral arrangements would be announced “as soon as is practical.
Bush was admitted to Houston Methodist Hospital with a blood infection on April 22 — two days after the funeral for his wife of 73 years, former first lady Barbara Bush.
Bush was with there his wife when she died at the age of 92 on April 17.
“He of course is broken-hearted to lose his beloved Barbara, his wife of 73 years. He held her hand all day and was at her side when [she] left this good earth,” a statement from his office said after her death. “But it will not surprise all of you who know and love him, that he also is being stoic and strong, and is being lifted up by his large and supportive family.”
Bush was a key part of his family’s political dynasty. His father was a senator; and his son George W. Bush was president from 2001 to 2009.
He served two terms as President Ronald Reagan’s second in command and became the first incumbent vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836.
But Bush’s tenure in the White House was limited to four years. He was defeated for re-election by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992. A weakened economy, a limited domestic agenda and a broken promise against raising taxes contributed to Bush’s defeat.
Bush was a one-time oil executive who spent years in government service, including terms as CIA director, ambassador to the United Nations and liaison to the People’s Republic of China. He was also elected to the House of Representatives as a congressman from Texas. Following his time in the White House, he and his wife moved to Houston, where they led a relatively quiet life.
Bush began experiencing health problems during his presidency. In 1991, he was treated at a hospital for an irregular heartbeat. Doctors diagnosed him as having Graves disease, a thyroid condition that, by coincidence, his wife also had.
Bush experienced a recurrence of the irregular heartbeat in February 2000, when he was attending a reception in Naples, Florida. He spent a night in the hospital, but smiled and joked with reporters the next day.
In November 2012, he was admitted to a Houston hospital for bronchitis and a chronic cough. He was expected to return home well before Christmas but remained hospitalized after the holiday. Officials said he had a high fever and had been placed on a liquids-only diet.
In 2017, the former president was admitted to the intensive care unit at Houston Methodist Hospital to “address an acute respiratory problem stemming from pneumonia,” according to his office.
His family has said publicly that the former president was no longer able to walk unassisted, a frustration for a man who enjoyed an active lifestyle of golf, fishing, jogging and power walks on the beach near his summer home in Maine.
Bush said he did not want age to slow him down. He made a parachute jump from an airplane on his 90th birthday, and celebrated his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays the same way.
In one of his last interviews, Bush reflected on his life, relishing the love of family and friends.
“I’ve been very blessed, when you look around, compared to … others,” Bush told ABC News’ “World News Tonight” anchor Diane Sawyer in June 2012. “But you must feel responsibility to others. You must believe in serving others. I think that’s a fundamental tenet of my life.”
George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts. He was the second oldest child in a family of four boys and one girl. His parents were Prescott Sheldon Bush, an investment banker who later would serve for 10 years in the U.S. Senate, and Dorothy Walker Bush.
Growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, George H.W. Bush had a privileged childhood. He attended the exclusive Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.
World War II broke out while he was at Phillips. Rather than go on and attend Yale University immediately after prep school, Bush joined the Navy.
Having graduated from Phillips Academy six months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Bush soon became the youngest combat aviation officer in the war.
Bush flew 58 combat missions in the Pacific as a torpedo bomber pilot and once was shot down by the Japanese in 1944. For his effort at bringing the plane down and saving most of its crew, Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the war, Bush entered Yale and graduated in less than three years with a degree in economics. Nicknamed Poppy, the tall and lanky Bush earned a Phi Beta Kappa key for high academic achievements and played baseball and soccer for Yale.
Shortly after leaving the Navy, Bush married Barbara Pierce, who he met at a country club dance when he was 17 and she was 16. They would eventually have six children, one of whom died of leukemia before her fourth birthday.
Two of their sons entered politics: George W. Bush became governor of Texas before winning the 2000 election for president, while his younger brother Jeb Bush became governor of Florida. Jeb Bush later ran for president in 2016 and dropped out during the Republican primary.
Bush moved his growing family to Texas after college, where he formed an independent oil exploration company.
But politics eventually came to be the focus of Bush’s life. He made his first foray as a candidate in 1964 with an ambitious but unsuccessful run for the Senate.
Two years later, Bush was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he cast a vote in favor of President Lyndon Johnson’s program for open, nondiscriminatory federal housing.
The lure of a Senate seat prompted Bush to try again in 1970. This time, Bush lost to Democrat Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr.
The two men would square off again 18 years later when Bentsen was the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. In the second matchup, Bush was victorious.
Following his 1970 defeat, Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford appointed Bush to a variety of high-profile positions: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, liaison to the People’s Republic of China and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Ford also considered naming Bush his vice president but opted instead to give the job to Nelson A. Rockefeller. As a consolation, Ford offered Bush his choice of ambassadorial assignments and Bush chose China. Bush left the government in January 1977 when Jimmy Carter became president.
In 1978, believing that Carter was vulnerable, Bush began his first campaign for the White House. Despite an early win in the 1980 Iowa caucuses, Bush’s campaign quickly lost momentum as Reagan overtook him to capture the GOP nomination.
During the campaign, Bush described Reagan’s plan to increase federal revenues by lowering taxes as “voodoo economics.” The remark got Bush needed coverage on the campaign trail but came back to bite him when Reagan chose Bush as his running mate and Bush had to become a cheerleader for Reagan’s economic plan.
The Reagan-Bush ticket easily defeated Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale. Four years later, the Reagan-Bush team trounced Mondale and vice presidential candidate Geraldine A. Ferraro.
Bush’s eight years as vice president were spent mostly in the shadows. He headed task forces on stopping the illegal drug trade and reducing federal regulations.
Reagan often sent Bush abroad as his representative. Bush set an attendance record at the funerals of foreign leaders, including those of three Soviet leaders.
But it was Bush’s participation in meetings of the National Security Council that threatened his political career. The Reagan administration secretly carried out the illegal sale of arms to Iran so the proceeds could be funneled to rebels fighting a Marxist government in Nicaragua.
After the Iran-Contra affair was exposed, questions were raised about what Bush knew of the secret program. Suspicions about Bush, however, had no lasting political impact.
In 1988, Bush ran to succeed Reagan with two catchphrases. He spoke of creating a “kinder, gentler nation” and he told voters, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” This last promise would become a problem for him; eventually he would break his word.
Despite an early challenge from Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, Bush captured the GOP nomination and selected a little-known young senator, Dan Quayle of Indiana, as his running mate. The choice surprised political analysts, but delighted Democrats, who viewed Quayle as an intellectual lightweight.
The Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, enjoyed a healthy lead in early campaign polls. But Bush waged an aggressive campaign and cast Dukakis as a liberal, a dirty word after eight years of Reagan. Bush easily won the general election with 53 percent of the vote and a wide margin in the electoral college.
As president, Bush’s greatest successes were in foreign policy. He built on the relationships he developed as Reagan’s vice president as well as in his past life as a diplomat.
When Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Kuwait in August 1990, Bush saw the incursion as a threat to U.S. interests. Arab allies urged U.S. involvement.
Bush assembled an international coalition and got the U.N. Security Council to demand Iraq’s immediate withdrawal from Kuwait. The council authorized the use of force if Iraq stayed put. It was the first time since World War II that the United States and the Soviet Union were allied in a significant international crisis.
When Hussein refused to move, Bush succeeded in getting a reluctant Congress to authorize force. The day after the U.N. deadline ended, Bush launched “Operation Desert Storm” — six weeks of round-the-clock air strikes followed by a 100-hour ground campaign.
Iraqi forces left Kuwait and Bush enjoyed the highest approval ratings of any president — 91 percent in March 1991.
In January 2011, Bush marked the 20th anniversary of Desert Storm with his national security team at a gathering of Republican foreign policy heavyweights in College Station, Texas.
Bush credited his Cabinet and military team for their leadership and unity during the planning and execution of the air and ground attacks that liberated Kuwait from the invasion by Iraq.
“No president was ever better served by his foreign policy team,” Bush said at the event.
More than 500,000 Americans were deployed at the peak of the fighting. One hundred and forty-eight service members were killed and 467 were wounded in the conflict.
“There are probably things I could have done better,” Bush said at the event. “I honestly believe history will say we did this right.”
The emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, cited Bush’s “decisive action” in 1991.
“The world is a safer place thanks to Desert Storm and to the strength of the international community’s response to Saddam Hussein’s aggression,” he said.
Despite his war against Iraq, Bush was never able to gain his footing in the domestic arena, and his domestic problems would be his downfall.
A major crisis in the savings and loan industry happened early on Bush’s watch, and taxpayers were left paying most of the bill. Bush took a hit in his support among American women when he nominated Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court and a former employee of Thomas’ claimed he had sexually harassed her.
Bush also had to confront a recession and rising unemployment figures. The jobless rate rose from 5.3 percent in 1989 to 7.4 percent in 1992.
But his biggest problem was breaking his word on taxes. Faced with the dilemma of paying for the Persian Gulf War, the savings and loan bailout and a weakened economy, Bush agreed to a budget plan with Congress that raised some taxes and gave up on his plan to cut the tax on capital gains.
In the end, nobody was happy. Democrats said the tax hike hit the poorest Americans hardest. Republicans hated the capital gains retreat.
In the 1992 primaries, Bush faced a surprisingly strong challenge from the conservative political columnist Patrick Buchanan. In the general election, he lost votes to H. Ross Perot, a populist third-party candidate. And Clinton, the Democratic nominee, proved to be a masterful politician.
The fall campaign was intense — Bush once called Clinton a “bozo” from the stump — but the two men later became friends — raising money for victims of the devastating 2004 tsunami in Asia and then more than $100 million for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2006.
During the transition phase in leaving the White House, Bush left a letter for Clinton wishing him “great happiness.”
“Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you,” the letter read.
“I don’t know what would happen, I don’t know where I’d be in life if I wasn’t blessed with a lot of kids and grandkids and family, including, of course, Barbara,” Bush told ABC News’ Sawyer in 2012. “Family means everything to me. And we’re blessed a with lot of ’em…. We take great pride in what they do and what their plans are for the future. And through — through their eyes, I think of life a lot.”
The newest member of the family at the time was Bush’s great-granddaughter, Georgia Helena Walker Bush, who was born in summer 2011.
“I have a little worry that I won’t be around to see her grow much older. But it’s not a fearsome thing,” the former president said.
Bush said he was coming to terms with his own mortality and believed in an afterlife.
“I’ve wondered about [heaven]. Who you see when you get there. Who do you look up? How do you find them? There’s a lot of people there. Maybe you look around, find some didn’t make it, too. … I don’t know how that works. I don’t think anybody knows,” he said. “I don’t fear it, though.
“When I was a little guy, I feared death. I’d worry about it. I’d be scared. Not anymore.”
Bush’s life story was also the topic of an HBO documentary titled “41,” which premiered in June 2012.
Huma Khan, Karen Travers, Ben Forer, Margaret Aro, Tess Scott, Veronica Stracqualursi, Gina Sunseri and The Associated Press contributed to this report.