George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd president, died at 94 on Nov. 30. His wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush, died on April 17. Although the 41st president narrowly escaped death when his torpedo bomber was hit by Japanese ground fire during a bombing run in WWII causing him to bail out over the Pacific Ocean, he lived longer than any other U. S. president.
George H. W. Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, was one of the youngest pilots in WWII and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery. He graduated from Yale University with honors and was captain of the school’s baseball team.
He became a successful oil executive, congressman, United Nations delegate, Republican Party chairman, envoy to Beijing, director of Central Intelligence, vice president during Ronald Reagan’s administration, and as the 41st president brought an end to the 40-year Cold War.
I remember well when President George H. W. Bush came to Atlanta in June 1991 to speak to the Southern Baptist Convention. I was pastor of Peachtree Corners Baptist Church at the time and Jim Cool, a member of our church who was also with the Secret Service, arranged for Martha Jean and me to sit on the front row for the president’s address. So far as I know there were no detractors or protestors in the World Congress Center when the president spoke.
Southern Baptist Convention President Morris Chapman introduced Mr. Bush and said, “We welcome you Mr. President to the 134th session of the nation’s largest evangelical body with 38,000 churches and 15 million members.
“On behalf of Southern Baptists, I want to thank you for your commitment to cherished beliefs that we hold in common. Thank you, Mr. President, for giving high priority to your personal family and to family values and for your leadership in advocating parental choice in education and child care. Thankyou, Mr. President, for standing up for the unborn, who cannot stand up for themselves. Thank you, Mr. President, for setting an example of spiritual commitment by attending public worship.
“Thank you, Mr. President, for unashamedly calling this nation to prayer at a time of international crisis. Thank you, Mr. President, for encouraging legislation to ensure the freedom of America’s children to pray in public schools.
“And Mr. President, we deeply thank you for honoring us with your presence today; and now, we Southern Baptists wish to make a commitment to obey the Scripture which teaches us to pray for you and for all other persons in authority that we might live quiet and peaceable lives. We further commit to be honest, God-fearing citizens and good Americans, whatever our political persuasion.
“Also, Mr. President we respectfully ask you to be ever vigilant in the continuing battle against America’s internal moral enemies and those who would undermine her Judeo-Christian ethic as well as against those totalitarian forces that may come against us from without. With the prayerful trust that you will, it gives me great pleasure to present to my fellow Southern Baptists the president of the United States, our President George Bush.”
Every sentence in Chapman’s introduction was greeted with sustained applause. When President Bush spoke, he talked about those qualities that made America great – “strong, but compassionate, proud, but not boastful, decent in giving, and believing strongly in family, bearing an enduring belief in freedom, an abiding faith in the love of God, and yes, in the power of prayer.”
President Bush’s address to Southern Baptists was 27 years ago, but it seems that our culture has changed dramatically since then when the presidency was marked by dignity and decency and our society was characterized by respect and civility. The Washington Post stated, “Although Mr. Bush served as president three decades ago, his values and ethic seem centuries removed from today acrid political culture.”
The Bush’s, however, had an affinity for Georgia. George Bush and Barbara Pierce were married in the bride’s hometown of Rye, New York, but came to the Cloisters in Sea Island, Georgia for their honeymoon.
In September 1991 the Bushes came back to Georgia as the president and first lady of the United States. They returned in 1995 to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and stayed in the five-star Cloister’s 2,200 square foot Sea Island Suite.
It was his parents’ love for Sea Island that prompted President George W. Bush to select the site for the G8 Summit in 2004 when he hosted the meeting attended by world leaders including Vladimir Putin, Tony Blair, and Jacques Chirac.
The death of George H. W. Bush seems like almost the end of an era. The funeral for the former president will be in Washington on December 5. President Donald Trump has designated next Wednesday as a National Day of Mourning in honor of the 41st president.