Former President George H. W. Bush — a World War II hero, distinguished public servant and patriarch of an American political dynasty — died on Friday. He was 94. Bush’s death was announced in a statement by his office that said he passed in Houston at 11 p.m. New York time.
“He was more than a great man; he was a good man,” Bush’s grandson George P. Bush wrote on Twitter. “His courage was matched by his compassion; and his dedication to country was equaled only by his devotion to his family.”
After serving as a two-term vice president under President Ronald Reagan, Bush led the nation as America’s 41st president from 1989 to 1993. During his presidential term, Bush presided over the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and marshaled a diverse coalition of nations to fight Iraq after dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Bush famously said the Iraqi aggression “will not stand.” Bush’s son, George W. Bush, became the nation’s 43rd president, making them only the second father and son to hold the office, along with John Adams and John Quincy Adams.
Another of Bush’s sons, Jeb, served as governor of Florida and made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, who died last April at age 92, had four other children — Dorothy, Neil, Marvin and Robin, who died from leukemia when she was just 3. George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924, to a wealthy and politically active family in Milton, Mass.
The son of Connecticut Sen. Prescott Bush and Dorothy (Walker) Bush, George attended the elite boarding school Phillips Academy. He graduated at 18 and that same day enlisted, becoming the youngest pilot in the Navy during World War II. He flew a torpedo bomber and flew 58 missions in the Pacific theater. He named his Avenger plane “Barbara.”
During one bombing run in 1944, Bush’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Despite his plane’s engine being in flames, Bush managed to release his bombs over the target. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in World War II.
Shortly after returning from war, Bush tied the knot with Barbara Pierce on Jan. 6, 1945. He enrolled at Yale University, where he was the baseball team captain. The slick-fielding first baseman led Yale to runner-up finishes in the first two College World Series, in 1947 and 1948.
After graduation, he and Barbara headed to west Texas to make his fortune and raise their family. He started the Bush-Overbey Oil Development company in 1951 and co-founded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation in 1953. He became a millionaire by the time he turned 40.
Following his success in the oil business, Bush turned his sights to politics. He won a congressional seat in 1967, becoming the first Republican to represent the district around Houston. President Gerald Ford appointed him envoy to the People’s Republic of China — a crucial post in the fall of 1974, since President Richard Nixon had only re-established communications with the Communist nation in 1972.
The diplomat returned to the states to be Ford’s CIA director starting in January 1976. Bush held that spot for a year, before newly elected President Jimmy Carter turned down his offer to stay. Bush then returned to his businesses in Houston until he got the political itch again. In 1979, he announced his first White House bid.
His main rival was Ronald Reagan, the former actor turned California governor. Bush scored a surprise win in the Iowa caucuses against Reagan, considered the GOP frontrunner. But The Gipper recovered and rode the “Reagan Revolution” to easily win the nomination.
At the Republican National Convention in Detroit that July, Reagan phoned Bush and offered him a spot as his running mate. Bush, who during the campaign had dubbed Reagan’s economic policies “voodoo economics,” was on board.
The Reagan-Bush ticket decimated Carter and Walter Mondale, winning 44 states and 489 electoral votes. As vice president, Bush traveled extensively to support Reagan, kicked off the highly controversial “War on Drugs,” and lent his foreign policy expertise to the administration.
In October 1987, Bush threw his hat in the presidential ring a second time. Bush defeated Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee, carrying 40 states and 53 percent of the vote in the 1988 election. At his inauguration in January 1989, Bush kicked off his administration with a call for a “kindler, gentler nation.”
During Bush’s first year in office, the Chinese government brutally suppressed protesters in Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall fell. He also witnessed German unification, and struggled with a rapidly changing Soviet Union and the new reforms urged by President Mikhail Gorbachev.
He was roundly criticized for not being more celebratory when the Berlin Wall — the icon of the Cold War — was breached. Bush responded in his usual self-control, saying “I am elated. I’m not a very emotional kind of guy.” But his administration was also marked by marked intensity.
Responding to the murder of a US Navy seaman by the Panamanian Defense Force, Bush sent the military into Panama and captured its strongman Manuel Noriega.
When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s military forces pushed into Kuwait in 1990 and threatened Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries in a power grab over oil fields, Bush vowed to force Hussein to retreat and amassed a coalition of counties to help him in Operation Desert Storm.
“This will not stand. This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait,” Bush proclaimed. Bush also presided over a tanking economy that was still suffering from the savings and loan crisis during the Reagan years. Revenues fell behind spending and the trend looked to continue as Baby Boomers began retiring and the budget deficit kept increasing.
Bush knew breaking his “read my lips” pledge not to raise taxes would mean a one-term presidency, but he said in his diary, “it’s that important for the country.” In 1992, Bush announced he would run for re-election.
But his Democratic challenger, Bill Clinton, running with the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” attacked Bush for not doing enough for the middle class and being “out of touch” with most Americans.
Clinton took 370 Electoral College votes to Bush’s 168. The Bush family wouldn’t be out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for long. Oldest son George W. Bush won the contested 2000 election — dropping the popular vote to Al Gore but winning the Electoral College thanks to his narrow triumph in Florida.
George H.W. became known as “Bush 41” to differentiate him from his son, the 43rd president of the United States. Despite recent health problems, Bush was one of the most active ex-presidents, regularly attending Houston Astros baseball games and cultural events around Space City.
Since leaving office, Bush was heavily involved in charities, often teaming with former President Clinton. In 2014, the former Navy lieutenant famously celebrated his 90th birthday with a parachute jump. He jumped out of planes to celebrate his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays as well.
“Just because you’re an old guy, you don’t have to sit around drooling in the corner,” Bush said after the 85th-birthday dive. “Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.”