In Well-being

Lessons for Life: What We Learned from George H.W. Bush

Last Wednesday, we witnessed the solemn, tradition-imbued state funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, complete with the grandeur of the joint services military honor guard escorting his casket from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington National Cathedral. Much of it was prescribed as the official ceremony honoring a United States president, but a good portion was inspired by the remarkable characteristics of the man himself.

In the many eulogies given both on Wednesday in Washington D.C. and on Thursday at the president’s private funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, a common thread emerged – this was a charitable, kind and generous man – “the most decent and honorable person I’ve ever known,” said former Senator Alan Simpson in his eulogy.

Here was a man certainly honored for his life of service to country, but equally for his attributes as a human being: someone who cherished deep, enduring friendships; who was loyal to family and friends; whose marriage of 73 years was exemplified by genuine regard, affection and pure joy; whose son – the 43rd president of the United States – said that he “looked for the good in each person and usually found it,” that with his optimism, “made his children believe anything was possible,” and that “he showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our county.”

After he left the Oval Office, George H.W. Bush continued his life of goodness and generosity, devotion to family and friends, with a healthy dose of fun, adventure and, of course, continued service. Twelve years after his upsetting loss for a second term to Bill Clinton, the two made an unlikely alliance to secure aid for the millions who were left homeless after the tsunami off the coast of Sumatra. They led recovery efforts and, in the process, formed a strong friendship. It beautifully illustrates the former president’s humility, ability to forgive and complete lack of rancor. Clinton simply says of his relationship with his predecessor, “I just loved him.”

The most moving tribute though may have been from his grandson George Prescott Bush, son of Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor. The grandson started his eulogy by stating that his grandfather was “the most gracious, most decent, most humble man I will ever know.” It became clear from his remembrances that George H.W. delighted in his grandchildren and felt he never had quite enough time with them. The family vacations at Kennebunkport in Maine were marked by George and Barbara welcoming all the grandkids into their bed in the mornings, fly-fishing off the rocks of Maine, spirited horseshoe matches and, according to the grandson, competing for “the highly coveted ‘first to sleep’ award” at night.

George H.W. would send letters of encouragement to all his grandkids, one reading: “The only thing wrong with the last five months was not seeing enough of you. Please promise this old gampster that you’ll spend more time with us here by the sea next summer. I’m wondering how all of you are doing in school and in life. If you need me I’m here for you because I love you very much.”

The grandson continued by saying that they saw, in their “big, wonderful, competitive family,” the personal goodness that led his grandfather to his recognized historical greatness. He left a simple but profound legacy to his children, grandchildren, and the country: service. “Fulfillment of a complete life cannot be achieved without service to others. God is good, but his love has a cost – you have to be good to one another.”

So, what lessons can we all learn from the life of George H.W. Bush? Here are some of them:

  1. Live a life of purpose, grace and dignity.
  2. Always strive to do the right thing.
  3. Look for the good in everyone and offer them kindness and respect.
  4. Be a true, loving partner to your spouse and honor them with regard, laughter and joy.
  5. Give your children and grandchildren unconditional love.
  6. Cherish and nurture friendships; they will last a lifetime.
  7. Be thankful for all that you have.
  8. Enjoy life to the fullest.
  9. Do not harbor hatred or rancor for anyone. It will harm you more than them.
  10. Keep a healthy sense of humor.

Mary McLoughlin is a contributing author to the Beacon Hill at Eastgate Blog. She reflects here on the former president’s life, sharing her thoughts as part of the on-going dialog within the Beacon Hill community about a life well lived.

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