George W Bush leads tributes to father with emotional eulogy at state funeral
George HW Bush has been celebrated with praise and loving humour as America bade farewell to the country’s 41st president and the last to fight for the US in wartime.
Three former presidents looked on at Washington National Cathedral as a fourth – George W Bush – eulogised his father.
“To us,” the son said of the father, “his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.”
George W Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost when she was three and his mother Barbara, who died in April.
He took comfort in knowing “Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again”.
For all the sombre tributes to the late president’s public service and strength of character, laughter filled the cathedral time after time.
Mr Bush’s eulogists – son included – noted his tendency to tangle his words and show his goofy side.
He was “the last great soldier-statesman”, historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, “our shield” in dangerous times.
But he also said that Mr Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin.
Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply cracked: “Never know. Gotta ask.”
After the service, the hearse and a long procession of cars headed for Joint Base Andrews and the flight to Texas – but first down to the National Mall to pass by the Second World War Memorial.
The congregation, filled with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office and others touched by Mr Bush’s life, rose for the arrival of the coffin, accompanied by clergy of faiths from around the world.
In their row together, President Donald Trump and former presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton stood with their spouses and all placed their hands over their hearts.
Mr Meacham also praised Mr Bush’s call to volunteerism – his “1,000 points of light” – placing it alongside Abraham Lincoln’s call to honour “the better angels of our nature” in the American rhetorical canon.
Mr Trump had mocked “1,000 points of light” last summer at a rally, saying: “What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? And it was put out by a Republican, wasn’t it?”
The national funeral service capped three days of remembrance in Washington before Mr Bush’s remains return to Texas on Wednesday for burial on Thursday.
He died on Friday at the age of 94.
Mr Bush will lie in repose at St Martin’s Episcopal Church before burial at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station.
His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukaemia in 1953.
On Wednesday morning, a military band played Hail To The Chief as Mr Bush’s coffin was carried down the steps of the US Capitol, where he had laid in state.
Family members looked on as servicemen fired off a cannon salute.
His hearse was then driven in a motorcade to the cathedral ceremony, slowing in front of the White House.
Mr Bush’s route was lined with people much of the way, in winter hats and taking photos.
Waiting for his arrival inside, Mr Trump shook hands with Mr Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who greeted him by saying “Good morning.”
Mr Trump did not shake hands with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who looked straight ahead.
Mr Clinton and Mrs Obama smiled and chatted as music played, while Mr Carter was seated silently next to Mrs Clinton in the cavernous cathedral.
Mr Trump tweeted on Wednesday that the day marked “a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life”.
The president and his wife took their seats after the others, briefly greeting the Obamas seated next to them.
On Tuesday soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the Capitol Rotunda to view Mr Bush’s coffin and honour a president whose legacy included World War military service and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled.
Former senator Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and one-time rival.
Mr Trump ordered the federal government closed on Wednesday for a national day of mourning, while flags on public buildings are flying at half-mast for 30 days.
As at notable moments in his life, Mr Bush brought together Republicans and Democrats in his death, and not only the VIPs.
Members of the public who never voted for him waited in the same long lines as the rest, attesting that Mr Bush possessed the dignity and grace that deserved to be remembered by their presence on a cold overcast day in the capital.
“I’m just here to pay my respects,” said Jane Hernandez, a retired physician in the heavily Democratic city and suburbs.
“I wasn’t the biggest fan of his presidency, but all in all he was a good, sincere guy doing a really hard job as best he could.”
Mr Bush’s service dog Sully was taken to the viewing as well – his main service in the last few months since Barbara Bush’s death in April has been to rest his head on her husband’s lap, which service dogs are trained to do.
Inside the Capitol, Sully, the two-year-old Labrador retriever assigned to Mr Bush, sat by the coffin in the company of people who came to commemorate Mr Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1990 law that, among its many provisions, required businesses that prohibit pets to give access to service dogs.
“After Mrs Bush’s death, general companionship was a big part of Sully’s job,” John Miller, president and chief executive of America’s VetDogs, said.
“One of the things that I think was important to the president was the rest command, where Sully would rest his head on the president’s lap.”
Mr Trump’s relationship with the Bush family has been tense.
The current president mocked the elder Bush for his “thousand points of light” call to volunteerism, challenged his son’s legacy as president and trounced “low-energy” Jeb Bush in the Republican presidential primaries en route to office.
The late President Bush called Mr Trump a “blowhard”.
Those insults have been set aside, but the list of funeral service speakers marked the first time since Lyndon Johnson’s death in 1973 that a sitting president was not chosen to eulogise a late president.
Mr Clinton did so for Richard Nixon, and George W Bush eulogised Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.
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