A FAMILY AFFAIR

George W. Bush’s emotional eulogy for his father ended with words about his mother

A son says goodbye.
A son says goodbye.
Image: Reuters/Alex Brandon
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Today (Dec. 5), George W. Bush delivered an emotional eulogy for his father, the late George H.W. Bush. As the Washington Post points out (paywall), it is the first time in US history that a former president said goodbye to another president who was also his father. Fittingly, the son offered perspective on his late father’s private life and emotions, with insight that only a family member could have.

Like two of the other eulogists, historian Jon Meacham and former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, the younger former president, remembered his father’s near-death experience when fighting against the Japanese in World War II, and how his survival shaped the temperament that he would later bring to the highest office. Several speakers, including former senator Alan Simpson, mentioned the late president’s lifelong dedication to friendship and loyalty. But it was the younger Bush’s personal experience as part of the family that set his words of goodbye apart.

Bush recalled intimate scenes and details about his late father, such as how he prayed daily for Robin Bush, the elder Bush’s daughter who died aged three from leukemia, and how Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died earlier this year, was his primary pillar of support throughout his grief. Bush said of his father:

None of his disappointments could compare with one of life’s greatest tragedies, the loss of a young child. Jeb and I were too young to remember the pain and agony he and Mom felt when our 3-year-old sister died. We only learned later that Dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily. He was sustained by the love of the almighty and the real and enduring love of our mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.

Before the elder Bush’s death, Robin was not the only one that he wanted to embrace again, his son revealed. “In his old age, Dad enjoyed watching police show reruns, volume on high, all the while holding Mom’s hand,” Bush said. “After Mom died, Dad was strong, but all he really wanted to do was to hold Mom’s hand, again.”

When the 41st president was still alive, he made it clear how dearly he loved both Robin and Barbara. He penned handwritten letters to Barbara declaring his love, and had emotional conversations with his granddaughter about the daughter he lost. Bush, the 43rd president, broke down into a sob—something he had reportedly prepared not to do—just before mentioning his own late sister and mother, whom his father always held particularly close.

“And in our grief,” Bush says to end, after regaining his composure, “let us smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.”

You can watch the full eulogy here.