George HW Bush – the 41st president of the United States – has died at the age of 94. The elder of the two Bush presidents served during a time of rapidly shifting geopolitics – the USSR unravelled and the Berlin Wall came down during his term – but he failed to win re-election after the economy worsened.
A now notorious comment – “Read my lips: no new taxes” – that he made at the 1988 Republican Party Convention but which he had to backtrack on two years later, came to hang around his neck. In 1992, he lost the White House to a fresh-faced Bill Clinton. Bush would later strike up a strong friendship with Mr Clinton, who lauded his former rival’s service to his country in a statement.
“Few Americans have been—or will ever be—able to match President Bush’s record of service to the United States and the joy he took every day from it,” Mr Clinton said in a joint statement with his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “I am profoundly grateful for every minute I spent with President Bush and will always hold our friendship as one of my life’s greatest gifts.”
The death of Bush, who served as head of the CIA and two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, before winning the Oval Office himself, came less than eight months after the passing of Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years.
One of his final public appearances was at the April funeral service for his wife, at the St Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. He was pushed into the service by his son, George W Bush, and posed for a photograph with Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack and Michelle Obama. The Trump family was represented first lady Melania, after Donald Trump announced he would not attend out of respect for the family.
Bush had a form of Parkinson’s disease that forced him to use a wheelchair or motorized scooter in recent years. During that period, he had been repeatedly in an out of various hospitals and his health had weakened. George W Bush issued a statement late on Friday to announce his father’s death saying he was a “was a man of the highest character”.
“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,” the statement read.
The death of the former president, who served as a US naval aviator during the Second World War, was announced in a statement issued by longtime spokesman, Jim McGrath. Bush passed away at at 10.10pm local time (4.10am GMT). No further details about the circumstances of his death were immediately available.
Given the passage of time, and given some of the people who succeeded him into the White House, the presidency of the patrician Bush has taken on something of a retroactive glow in the eyes of some. But his term was not without controversy; in December 1989 he ordered the US invasion of Panama, and ousted dictator Manuel Noriega.
While Bush claimed the reason for the invasion was to protect the lives of 35,000 US citizens living there, some critics said he did so for domestic political reasons. The following year, he helped put together a coalition of 35 nations to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, after he annexed the Gulf nation. While Iraqi forces were quickly driven out of Kuwait, he decided not to pursue Saddam’s troops to Baghdad.
Some said that was a a tactical error, but Bush always defended his decision. “That wasn’t our objective,” he told the Associated Press in 2011. “The good thing about it is there was so much less loss of human life than had been predicted and indeed than we might have feared.” Also controversial was Bush’s alleged knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair, something he claimed he was kept out of the loop in when he ran for president.
As it was, one his final acts as president was to pardon half-a-dozen White House officials from the Reagan administration convicted over the secret operation to sell arms to Iran – the subject of an arms embargo – and use the money to fund right-wing “contra” forces in Nicaragua. Among those convicted and pardoned were Caspar Weinberger and Elliott Abrams.
Among those to pay their respects to Bush after news of his death broke, was Mr Trump, who said he and Melania “join with a grieving nation”. “Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service—to be, in his words, “a thousand points of light” illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world,” he said.
Mr Obama and Ms Obama wrote on Twitter: “America has lost a patriot and humble servant…While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Not merely for the years he spent as our forty-first president, but for the more than 70 years he spent in devoted service to the country he loved.”
Last year, Bush was accused of groping several women more than 15 years earlier, something that led his one-time spokesman Mr McGrath, to acknowledge the former president had “on occasion…patted women’s rears in what he intended to be in a good-natured manner”.
In addition to George W Bush, becoming president, another of Bush’s sons, Jeb, was elected Florida governor in 1998 and made an unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
The other Bush children are sons Neil and Marvin and daughter Dorothy Bush LeBlond. Another daughter, Robin, died of leukaemia in 1953, a few weeks before her fourth birthday.