To his very last days, Dad’s life was instructive. As he aged, he taught us how to grow with dignity, humor, and kindness. And when the good Lord finally called, how to meet him with courage and with the joy of the promise of what lies ahead. One reason Dad knew how to die young is that he almost did it, twice. When he was a teenager, a staph infection nearly took his life. A few years later, he was alone in the Pacific on a life raft, praying that his rescuers would find him before the enemy did. God answered those prayers. It turned out he had other plans for George H. W. Bush. For Dad’s part, I think those brushes with death made him cherish the gift of life. And he vowed to live every day to the fullest.
Dad was always busy, a man in constant motion, but never too busy to share his love of life with those around him. He taught us to love the outdoors. He loved watching dogs flush a covey. He loved landing the elusive striper. And once confined to a wheelchair, he seemed happiest sitting in his favorite perch on the back porch at Walker’s Point, contemplating the majesty of the Atlantic. The horizons he saw were bright and hopeful. He was a genuinely optimistic man, and that optimism guided his children and made each of us believe that anything was possible. He continually broadened his horizons with daring decisions. He was a patriot. After high school, he put college on hold and became a Navy fighter pilot as World War II broke out. Like many of his generation, he never talked about his service, until his time as a public figure forced his hand. We learned of the attack on Chichijima, the mission completed, the shootdown. We learned of the death of his crewmates, whom he thought about his entire life, and we learned of the rescue. And then another audacious decision: He moved his young family from the comforts of the East Coast to Odessa, Texas. He and Mom adjusted to their arid surroundings quickly. He was a tolerant man. After all, he was kind and neighborly to the women with whom he, Mom, and I shared a bathroom in our small duplex. Even after he learned their profession, ladies of the night.
Dad could relate to people from all walks of life. He was an empathetic man. He valued character over pedigree. And he was no cynic. He looked for the good in each person, and he usually found it. Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary—that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values like faith and family. He strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and the country in which one lived. He recognized that serving others enriched the giver’s soul. To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light. In victory, he shared credit; when he lost, he shouldered the blame. He accepted that failure is a part of living a full life, but taught us never to be defined by failure. He showed us how setbacks can strengthen. 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 her mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.