George H.W. Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts on June 12, 1924. He was the second of five children to Prescott Bush (1895-1972), a banker and Dorothy Walker Bush (1901-92). Dorothy wanted to name her son after her father, but couldn’t choose between George Herbert Bush and George Walker Bush, so she decided to name him George Herbert Walker Bush.
George’s father was a partner in a prestigious Wall Street investment firm who went on to represent Connecticut in the U.S. Senate. His mother Dorothy instilled in George a sense of humility and she warned her children against bragging or having “too many ‘I’s’ in a sentence.” His parents believed that “from those to whom much is given, much is expected,” and encouraged public service, empathy and personal modesty. Prescott and Dorothy raised their five children to be a close-knit group.
George, known as “Poppy,” attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. During his junior year he contracted a staph infection which put him in the hospital for six weeks. He decided to repeat the year which put him with students his own age. He was elected senior class president, captain of the baseball and soccer teams, and was a member of a number of other clubs. His sister Nancy would later recall, “I was terribly popular for a while — everyone wanted to come to our house because they might run into George.” Although he was a popular student he followed his mother’s teachings and was kind to everybody, no matter their social standing.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, George heard the news of the attack while walking across campus and has what he calls “the typical American reaction that we had better do something about this.” A few weeks later at a Christmas dance, he meets Barbara Pierce.
George graduated during World War II and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, himself an Andover graduate, told the boys at the graduation ceremony that they should go to college and let the draft do its work. George was already accepted to Yale and would hear none of it. Years later, he simply said, “I wanted to serve—duty, honor, country.” Against his father’s wishes, George deferred acceptance to Yale and joined the Navy on his 18th birthday, the same day he graduated from Andover. Two months later, he boarded a train to North Carolina for flight training.
On June 9, 1943 George became the youngest commissioned pilot in the naval air service and in December was assigned to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. San Jacinto in the Pacific. As a member of the torpedo squadron VT-51, George flew an Avenger bomber on which he inscribed the name “Barbara.” He never told stories about his sweetheart Barbra and he didn’t try to pick up women on nights in town. He didn’t smoke or drink or cuss but his fellow pilot Jack Guy said of George decades later, “He was a lot of fun, a live wire, I don’t know anyone who didn’t like him for any reason.”
He flew combat missions over the Pacific and on September 2, 1944 George’s plane was hit at 8,000 feet and caught fire. He finished his dive, dropped his four 500-pound bombs successfully on target, a key Japanese radio station on the island of Chichi Jima. He headed out to sea with his plane on fire and radioed his two crewmen, Ted White and John Delaney, to “hit the silk,” or bail out. Only one of the two crewmen bailed out, and that man’s parachute never opened. George bailed out and was rescued by the submarine U.S.S. Finback and spent a month on the sub before being dropped off in Midway. Instead of taking his chance to rotate home he returned to his squadron aboard the San Jacinto. In a letter to his mother about the incident he states that when he realized that the other two men didn’t survive he “…was pretty much a sissy about it cause I sat in my raft and sobbed for a while ….I feel so terribly responsible for their fate”. More than 50 years later, George said the deaths of his two crewmen “still weigh heavy on my mind,” and continues to relive the experience in nightmares throughout his life.
When he rotated back to the states he had completed 58 combat missions and 1,228 combat hours. He learned that being heroic didn’t mean a man was without fear. Being heroic meant a man went on despite his fear.
While on leave he married Barbara Pierce in Rye, New York on January 6, 1945. The war ended before he had to return to duty, and was honorably discharged on September 18, 1945. George and Barbara moved to New Haven, Connecticut where they had their first son, George Walker Bush on July 6, 1946.
George attended Yale University on an accelerated schedule and excelled at sports, captained the baseball team and was admitted to the elite secret society Skull and Bones. He also played in the first two College World Series in 1947 and 1948. After just two and a half years, George graduated with honors and a degree in economics.
He was offered a job at his father’s Wall Street firm, but decided to set out for West Texas to try his luck in the oil boom and landed an entry-level job. Two years later he partnered with a neighbor and friend, John Overbey, who knew the oil business inside and out and with George’s East Coast investment connections, the two were moderately successful. They joined with a team of two brothers from Oklahoma in 1952 and created Zapata Petroleum which struck it big at an oil field in Coke County known as Jameson Field.
George’s father, Prescott Bush, was elected a Senator from Connecticut in 1952, and was a role model that led George to become interested in public service and politics.
On February 11, 1953 John Ellis Bush was born, known as “Jeb,” his name is derived from his initials. Just a few weeks later their three-year-old daughter Robin is diagnosed with leukemia and dies on October 12, 1953. For more than 40 years George carried a gold medallion in his wallet that read, “For the Love of Robin.” When the Bushes had another daughter, six years after Robin’s death, George visited the nursery, pressed his face against the glass, and sobbed.
The Bushes’ fourth child, Neil Mallon Bush, is born in Midland, Texas on January 22, 1955 and then on October 22, 1956, Marvin Pierce Bush, the Bushes’ fifth child and youngest son, is born. On August 18, 1959 Dorothy “Doro” Bush is born and soon after her birth, the family moved to Houston.
In 1962, after a decade in office, George’s father retired from the U.S. Senate. That same year, George made his political debut as chairman of the Republican Party in Houston, Texas and was soon seen as a bright light in the Texas Republican Party.
George ran against liberal Ralph Yarborough for the U.S. Senate seat from Texas. The John F. Kennedy administration had divided the Democratic Party, especially in Texas. However, Kennedy’s assassination unites the party behind the new president and native Texan, Lyndon Johnson, squashing Bush’s chances of defeating Yarborough. Conspiracy theorists claim that George was part of the assassination plot to kill President Kennedy.
In 1966 George ran for Congress in Texas and wins with the help of his dramatic war story and a grainy film of him being rescued by the USS Finback being used in his campaign. He has said that he never understood why he was given a medal because he was shot out of the sky, he said “When I got down on the submarine, I was just a sick, scared, young kid. The heroes were the guys shot down and killed or the guys who hit the beaches and were slaughtered, the guys who didn’t come back to families and jobs.”
As a new congressman, George struggled to strike a balance between the conservative Texas electorate and his more moderate personal views. Despite not leaving too much of a mark in Washington in those four years, he did earn the nickname “Rubbers” for his deep interest in population control and family planning. With his father’s help, he became the first freshman in 63 years to be offered a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
In 1970 George gave up his congressional seat to challenge Ralph Yarborough for the U.S. Senate. His election plan failed when Lloyd Bentsen defeats Yarborough in the Democratic Primary and defeated Bush in November.
Keeping a promise to find Bush a job if his bid for U.S. Senate failed, on December 11, 1970 Richard Nixon announces his appointment of Bush as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, after George declined his offer as a Special Assistant to the President. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1971 to 1973. During this time his father, Prescott Bush died of lung cancer.
George left the United Nations in January 1973 to become chairman of the Republican National Committee. A month later, the Senate Watergate Committee is established to investigate the administration’s involvement in the Watergate break-in. During a cabinet meeting on August 6, 1974, George told President Nixon that Watergate is sapping public confidence. The next day, he sends a letter to the president suggesting that he resign and President Nixon announced his resignation on August 8, 1974.
George went to Kennebunkport to wait for President Gerald Ford to announce his choice for vice president. George is the first choice among party leaders but Ford chose Nelson Rockefeller instead. A reporter with Bush in Kennebunkport says, “Mr. Bush, you don’t seem to be too upset about this.” Bush replies, “Yes, but you can’t see what’s on the inside.”
Since President Ford didn’t select George as his vice president he offered him an ambassadorship in the country of his choosing. George chose China, although the U.S. does not maintain formal diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China he becomes the head of the U.S. Liaison Office.
While in China, George is requested by President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to return to Washington to become the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. George acts as Director until 1977 when newly-elected Democrat Jimmy Carter became president.
After two years as a private citizen, George announced in May of 1979 that he was running for president. After a number of debates, Ronald Reagan wins the Republican nomination for president and in May 1980 George officially pulls out of the presidential race. On July 16, 1980 George received a phone call from Ronald Reagan asking him to be the vice presidential nominee.
On November 4, 1980 the Reagan and Bush team defeated Carter and Mondale by a wide margin. On January 20, 1981 George is sworn in as the nation’s 41st vice president and travels 1.3 million miles, visiting 50 states and 65 countries in his role.
On March 30, 1981 President Reagan was shot outside the Washington (D.C.) Hilton Hotel. Even though George was the acting president for eight hours, he would not sit in the president’s chair during cabinet meetings. His actions cements George’s relationship with Reagan, leaving no doubt among Reagan’s closest advisors about George’s loyalty to the President.
In George’s first public statement about the Iran-Contra affair, on December 3, 1986 he admitted that mistakes were made and he was not aware of any diversion of funds, any ransom payments, or any circumvention of the will of the Congress or the laws of the United States of America. His speech drew praise but didn’t keep George from being suspected of knowing more than he let on. Doubts about George ‘s involvement will linger through his 1992 presidential campaign.
After two terms as vice president under Reagan, George became the Republican presidential nominee in 1988 with running mate Dan Quayle, a U.S. senator from Indiana. George’s image became a factor during the 1988 presidential campaign due to being unwilling or unable to speak out against President Reagan’s policies. The week George announced his candidacy, a Newsweek cover read, “Fighting the Wimp Factor.” Though George ultimately won in 1988, that campaign is remembered largely for his team’s palpable shift toward attack-style, negative campaign tactics.
On November 8, 1988 George captured 426 electoral votes and more than 53 percent of the popular vote, his opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis received 111 electoral votes and more than 45 percent of the popular vote. On January 20, 1989 George is inaugurated as the 41st President of the United States and calls for a “kinder, gentler America,” in his inauguration speech, which is seen as a subtle departure from the Reagan agenda.
One of the interesting bans George had was on broccoli aboard Air Force One. He stated, “I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!”
In May 1989, George signed a bill which established a Federal Holiday in the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.. There was some resistance to the initial suggestion, but the bill was supported by musician Stevie Wonder who wrote and recorded a song called “Happy Birthday” which helped to publicly promote the campaign.
George is criticized for his reaction of not being tough enough when the Chinese government brutally suppressed an uprising in Tiananmen Square on June 3, 1989. Instead of publicly condemning the actions of the Chinese government, George wrote a letter to the Chinese leadership laying out his thoughts and grave concerns about the event.
When the Berlin Wall falls on November 9, 1989 some claimed that George should participate in the celebrations that symbolically end of the Cold War. But George believed that a victory celebration by the American president would provoke a backlash from the Soviet Union.
On December 20, 1989 George is pressed to take actions on foreign affairs when a U.S. Navy seaman was killed and two American witnesses where beat by members of the Panamanian Defense Force. In response, the United States invaded Panama, captured the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, bringing him to the United States to stand trial for drug trafficking.
Bush announced his “no new taxes” pledge on June 26, 1990 when he agrees to put taxes on the table in negotiating a budget deal with congressional Democrats. In September, George and the bipartisan budget committee announced their budget agreement but the House minority whip, Newt Gingrich, a member of the bipartisan committee, refused to attend the announcement ceremony and leads a Republican revolt against the budget agreement.
George signed important legislation on November 15, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The New York Times refers to the passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments as the single most distinguished policy achievement of the Bush administration. He also founded the Points of Light Foundation to promote the spirit of volunteerism by signing the National and Community Service Act of 1990, the first piece of federal service legislation in almost 20 years.
When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Kuwait on August 2, 1990 George started to organize a military coalition of more than 30 countries. He sees Hussein as another Adolf Hitler and resolves from the start to eject Iraq from Kuwait entirely. A November United Nations vote backing the use of “all means necessary” to eject Hussein’s army, but George faced resistance from Congress who passed a war resolution of its own, and the Senate passed the resolution by a narrow margin of 52-47. On January 12, 1991 the Gulf War, with 425,000 American troops and 118,000 troops from allied nations started a five weeks air offensive followed by 100 hours of a ground offensive. Operation Desert Storm ended in late February with Iraq’s defeat and Kuwait’s liberation. As a result, George enjoyed the highest presidential polling numbers recorded at the time.
In July 1991 George improved U.S.-Soviet relations when he met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
George announced his candidacy for re-election February 1992. With his approval rating soaring to 89 percent in the wake of the Gulf War, he was not prepared for a complete reversal in the minds and hearts of the American people. After promising “no new taxes” in his first presidential campaign, he upset some by raising tax revenues in an effort to deal with a rising budget deficit. Wealthy businessman Ross Perot also entered the presidential race as a third party candidate and ultimately won 19 percent of the popular vote in November, making him the most successful third-party candidate since the election of 1912.
On November 4, 1992 Democratic candidate William J. Clinton defeated George and became the 42nd President of the United States. Two weeks later, on November 19, 1992, George’s mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, dies. His daughter Doro will later write, “It’s still moving to think I was there when my father said good-bye to his mother, the woman who had the biggest impact on his life. I believe that to be true because my dad’s life was not defined by the political system he navigated, but by the set of beliefs his mother taught him.”
After George left the presidency Queen Elizabeth II awarded him an honorary knighthood in 1993, and when he visited Kuwait later that year a car bomb assassination plot was foiled.
On November 6, 1997 the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum is opened to the public and George told his audience “Today I feel like the luckiest person in the world”. The Bush School of Government and Public Service, located at Texas A&M University, was also founded in 1997 and has become one of the leading public and international affairs graduate schools in the nation.
On June 9, 1999, George celebrated his 75th birthday by skydiving and continued that tradition every five years and skydived on his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays. On his 90th birthday he tweeted about the incident prior to the jump, saying “It’s a wonderful day in Maine — in fact, nice enough for a parachute jump.”
George attended the inauguration of his son, George W. Bush, who became the 43rd President of the United States on January 20, 2001. It is the first time a father and son have both been elected president since John and John Quincy Adams almost 200 years before. The family refers to them as “41” and “43.”
Teaming up with a former political foe in February 2005, he joined Bill Clinton and toured areas in Southeast Asia damaged by a tsunami. Later that year in September Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast states and the two former presidents formed the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund to help raise funds to aid in the relief efforts. Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast in September of 2008, and once again the two presidents joined to form the Bush-Clinton Gulf Coast Recovery Fund to aid in the reconstruction of Gulf Coast infrastructure.
Having been an aircraft carrier pilot during World War II George is honored by having an aircraft carrier named after him, the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier is commissioned on January 10, 2009.
President Barack Obama awarded George the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his commitment to service, his ability to inspire volunteerism throughout the country, and encouraging citizens to be “a thousand points of light.” The administration continues to promote service and civic engagement, honoring heroes of local communities as “Champions of Change” and fostering civic participation.
George seemed to always be supporting other people and in July 2013 he shaved his head to support a leukemia victim, the son of a member of his Secret Service detail. In the same year he also attended the same-sex wedding of Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen in Kennebunkport, Maine, and signed their marriage license as a witness.
The National College Baseball Foundation announced in November 2013 that its Hall of Fame museum will be named after the 41st president and in May 2014 he received the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation Profiles in Courage Award.
In December 2014 he was hospitalized as a precautionary measure after he experienced a shortness of breath and in July 15, 2015 he fell and broke his C2 vertebrae in his neck. His spokesman Jim McGrath told CNN the injury is not life threatening. In October 2015 he made his first public engagement since the accident and threw the ceremonial first pitch for the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
George isn’t just known for his funky sock collection but he has also written three books: Looking Forward, an autobiography; A World Transformed, co-authored with General Brent Scowcroft, on foreign policy during his administration, and All The Best, a collection of letters written throughout his life. In 2008, President Bush’s diary, written during his time in China, was published under the title, The China Diary of George H.W. Bush — The Making of a Global President.
Barbara Bush often jokes that her successful life is a result of marrying well. But she has also made a difference by founding the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy in 1989, which supports family literacy programs where parents and children can learn and read together. The Foundation has awarded over $40 million to create or expand 902 family literacy programs in all 50 states. She has also authored two children’s books, C. Fred’s Story, and Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush about the White House dog Millie, and the best-selling books Barbara Bush: A Memoir and Reflections: Life After the White House.
George and Barbara Bush’s family keeps growing, they have five children, 24 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. At 90 and 91 years old, they celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary on January 6, 2016.
George H.W. Bush Quotes
“America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the Nation and gentler the face of the world.”
“Read my lips: no new taxes.”
“Equality begins with economic empowerment.”
“I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of [CIA] sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.”
“Weakness and ambivalence lead to war.”
“Our nation is the enduring dream of every immigrant who ever set foot on these shores, and the millions still struggling to be free. This nation, this idea called America, was and always will be a new world — our new world.”
“Competence is the creed of the technocrat who makes sure the gears mesh but doesn’t for a second understand the magic of the machine.”
“This is America … a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”
“The anchor in our world today is freedom, holding us steady in times of change, a symbol of hope to all the world.”
“The fact is prosperity has a purpose. It’s to allow us to pursue “the better angels,” to give us time to think and grow.”
“There is a God and He is good, and his love, while free, has a self imposed cost: We must be good to one another.”
“They only name things after you when you’re dead or really old.”
“I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”
“I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”
“There are truckloads of broccoli at this very minute descending on Washington. My family is divided. For the broccoli vote out there: Barbara loves broccoli. She has tried to make me eat it. She eats it all the time herself. So she can go out and meet the caravan of broccoli that’s coming in.”
“We’re going to keep trying to strengthen the American family. To make them more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons.”
“The longer our graduation lines are today, the shorter our unemployment lines will be tomorrow.”
“If you believe that there’s a being superior to yourself and that will guide you, strengthen you that helps a lot but, you know, you just have to stay the course. You just got to stay in there. You cannot be waffling or taking a poll to see what people think. You have to do what you think is right.”
“I know this about the American people: We welcome competition. We’ll match our ingenuity, our energy, our experience and technology, our spirit and enterprise against anyone.”
“I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are…. I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.”
“It is possible to tell things by a handshake. I like the “looking in the eye” syndrome. It conveys interest. I like the firm, though not bone crushing shake. The bone crusher is trying too hard to “macho it.” The clammy or diffident handshake — fairly or unfairly — get me off to a bad start with a person.”
“It’s no exaggeration to say that the undecideds could go one way or another.”
“I do not mistrust the future; I do not fear what is ahead. For our problems are large, but our heart is larger.”
“Abraham Lincoln truly inspired me. It wasn’t just the freeing of the slaves, he kept the Union together. Some people even forget that today. What I think inspired me was the fact that in spite of being the President of the United States he retained a certain down-to-earth quality. He never got to be a big shot, and he cared about people.”
“No problem of human making is too great to be overcome by human ingenuity, human energy, and the untiring hope of the human spirit.”
“No generation can escape history.”
“My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos.”
“The anchor in our world today is freedom, holding us steady in times of change.”
“The American Dream means giving it your all, trying your hardest, accomplishing something. And then I’d add to that, giving something back. No definition of a successful life can do anything but include serving others.”
“There are singular moments in history, dates that divide all that goes before from all that comes after.”
“I’m not concerned about anything anymore. It’s kind of in the shadows. There’s been a sea change on all of that. Things that I felt passionately about, I just don’t anymore. I think that goes … I think that goes with just being older and having had the privilege of having a full and active life, and now just fading, fading—fading away, like General MacArthur said.”
“In addition to caring for our future, we must care for those around us. A decent society shows compassion for the young, the elderly, the vulnerable, and the poor.”
“We know what works: Freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state.”
“I have opinions of my own — strong opinions — but I don’t always agree with them.”
“I think any time there’s a crisis people want to blame someone. I’ve never been much for the Monday morning quarterbacking…. The media has a fascination with the blame game and instead of looking for what can we do to help now there’s a lot of why didn’t we do something different?”
“We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order, a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations.”
“I’ll be glad to reply to or dodge your questions depending on what I think will help our election most.”
“There isn’t any such thing as something free out there. It either gets passed along as increased prices or it gets passed along by people being put out of work so the business can continue to compete.”
“We’re headed the right way, but we cannot rest. We’re a people whose energy and drive have fueled our rise to greatness. And we’re a forward-looking nation—generous, yes, but ambitious, not for ourselves but for the world. Complacency is not in our character—not before, not now, not ever.”
“Courage is a terribly important value. It means you don’t run away when things are tough. It means you don’t turn away from a friend when he or she is in trouble. It means standing up against the majority opinion…. There’s a lot of people who won’t wear it on their sleeve, or display it through some heroic act. But courage is having the strength to do what’s honorable and decent.”
“Let me tell you, if we ignore human capital, if we lose the spirit of American ingenuity, the spirit that is the hallmark of the American worker, that would be bad. The American worker is the most productive worker in the world.”
“To those men and women in business, remember the ultimate end of your work: to make a better product, to create better lives. I ask you to plan for the longer term and avoid that temptation of quick and easy paper profits.”
“Education is the one investment that means more for our future because it means the most for our children. Real improvement in our schools is not simply a matter of spending more: It’s a matter of asking more—expecting more—of our schools, our teachers, of our kids, of our parents, and ourselves.”
“For the first time since World War II the international community is united. The leadership of the United Nations, once only a hoped-for ideal, is now confirming its founders’ vision…. The world can therefore seize this opportunity to fulfill the long-held promise of a new world order.”
“There’s one thing I hope we will all be able to agree on. It’s about our commitments. I’m talking about Social Security. To every American out there on Social Security, to every American supporting that system today, and to everyone counting on it when they retire, we made a promise to you, and we are going to keep it.”
“The most important competitiveness program of all is one which improves education in America. When some of our students actually have trouble locating America on a map of the world, it is time for us to map a new approach to education.”
“If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather that dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities.” — Barbara Bush
“All of our nation’s problems – the breakup of families, drugs, homelessness, unemployment – everything would be better if more people could read, write and comprehend.” – Barbara Bush
George H.W. Bush
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