Former President George Herbert Walker Bush has died at the age of 94. Bush, also a former CIA director and Vice President, passed Friday at 10:10 P.M. Central time, according to his official spokesperson. He had been in ill health for some time and was confined to a wheelchair.
In a statement, his son and 43rd President George W. Bush praised his father. “Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died. 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.”
George H.W. Bush was elected president on Nov. 8, 1988, sworn in on Jan. 20, 1989, and served until Jan. 20,1993, when President Bill Clinton took over. Bush was denied a second term after an economic downturn soured the nation on him. He seemed particularly out of touch during a visit to a supermarket, where he marveled at the checkout scanners, something average people encounter several times a week.
Bush passed less than eight months after his wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush, died.
Born of wealth in New England, he married Barbara Bush on January 6, 1945, and after graduating from Yale, moved his young family to Texas to get into the oil business, later co-founding an offshore oil drilling company.
Bush was a decorated Navy pilot who was shot down in the Pacific in 1944. He became the Navy’s youngest aviator, and bailed out after his plane was shot down near the Japanese-controlled island of Chichijima. His two crewmen perished in the crash, and Bush famously was rescued at sea by the submarine USS Finback – a dramatic rescue that was captured on film.
He was the last of the World War II generation to become President. He was a two-term congressman from Texas, ambassador to the United National, chairman of the Republican National Committee, US envoy to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and then Vice President under Ronald Reagan.
His wartime toughness and bureaucratic experience served him well during his presidency, as he presided over the end of the Cold War when the Soviet Union collapsed. He also responded when Iraq invaded Kuwait, marshaling a global coalition to eject the Saddam Hussein-led Iraq from Kuwait in 1991 in the first Gulf War.
As president, the elder Bush appointed two justices to the U.S. Supreme Court – David Souter and Clarence Thomas, who was named to fill the seat vacated by the retirement of civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall.
His political career began in 1963, when he was elected chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. Later that year, just hours after President Kennedy was assassinated, Bush told the FBI that he believed his political rival, James Parrott, might have been involved. That proved to be unfounded, but it wouldn’t be the last time his unfounded allegations would play out during a national crisis.
In 1967 he was elected to Congress, where he rankled many Southern conservatives by voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1968. He ran for the Senate in 1970 at the urging of President Richard Nixon, but lost. Nixon repaid him by appointing him U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, an appointment that was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate.
With the Watergate scandal heating up after Nixon’s re-election in 1972, the president asked Bush to return to Washington as chairman of the Republican National Committee to help him manage the ever-growing scandal, in which Bush would play a pivotal role.
On July 24, 1973, the day after the Senate Watergate Committee subpoenaed Nixon to turn over the now-famous White House tapes, Bush held a press conference and accused Carmine Bellino — the Senate Watergate Committee’s chief investigator — of wiretapping Nixon’s hotel suite the night before his second TV debate with JFK back in 1960.
Bellino had been JFK’s chief investigator during the 1960 campaign, but as the Watergate Committee’s chief sleuth, it was his job to track down evidence for all the various crimes of which Nixon and his White House cronies were accused or suspected.
During his press conference, Bush sheepishly acknowledged that the evidence supporting his allegations against Bellino was “incomplete,” but said, “I’d like to see somebody develop it further.”
Senate Republicans demanded that Bellino be taken off the Watergate investigation – which he was – and that he be investigated himself, which he was for the next 2 1/2 months. In the end, the investigation found no evidence to support Bush’s allegation and Bellino was cleared, but many believe that it impeded the Senate’s Watergate probe.
As President Reagan’s VP, Bush claimed to be “out of the loop” during the Iran-contra scandal, in which the U.S. was secretly supplying arms to Iran and using the proceeds secretly to fund right-wing opposition groups in Nicaragua. Despite his claim of having little operational knowledge of the arms deals, his diary entry from that time, as he was preparing to run for the presidency, said: “I’m one of the few people who know fully the details.”
After retiring from public life, Bush supported son George W’ Bush’s run for the presidency and counseled him throughout the days following 9/11. He also supported son Jeb Bush’s run for the White House in 2016, later telling a biographer that his son’s chief rival, Donald Trump, is “a blowhard.” Bush’s nephew, Billy Bush, famously was fired as host of NBC’s Today show after he was caught on tape laughing at Trump’s “grab ‘em by the p*ssy” comments on that Access Hollywood tape. Trump was later elected president.
Bush largely had kept a low profile since leaving public life. He attended Nixon’s funeral in 1994, and a year later, in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, resigned from the NRA after its leader, Wayne LaPierre, accused federal agents of being “jackbooted thugs … wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.”
Despite their politics, and that bitter 1992 race, the elder bush and President Clinton became close friends during the 2000s, working together after the 2004 tsunami and 2010 Haiti earthquake. Bush Sr. was too frail to go to the devatstated Caribbean island with Clinton, so he suggested that W go in his stead. Despite trepedation from both men, the younger Bush and Clinton made the trip and raised tens of millions of dollar for the relief effort, and they also became friends. Indeed, Clinton became close to the entire Bush family, and according to Nancy Gibbs’ 2013 book The Presidents’ Club, Barbara Bush referred to the Arkansan as her sons’ “fourth brother.”
In 2015, President Obama called George H.W. Bush “one of the more underrated presidents we have ever had.” Last October, however, he was caught up in the #MeToo movement when he was accused of groping several woman and telling crude jokes. He apologized through a spokesman, and the next month because the longest-living president in U.S. history. At 93, he was also the longest living vice president.