On November 30, 2018, Houston lost one of its greatest backers- and one of its finest citizens. George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States, died just seven months following the passing of his beloved wife and inseparable partner, Barbara.
The outpouring of love and respect in and around Houston was
immediate and phenomenal. The community's loss of "41," as he was called by friends and strangers alike, was the subject of extended local news coverage. Vast crowds first gathered at the Bush home in Tanglewood, and then at the Houston funeral home where his body was prepared for its final travels. When his casket was escorted from the funeral home to Ellington Field in preparation for observances in Washington,
throngs of citizens lined the route to pay respect. When the President's remains were transferred by
special train car, Union Pacific 4141, from Houston to the final resting place at his presidential library in College Station, multitudes gathered at almost every railroad crossing along the way.
It is no mystery to Houstonians why so many felt moved to take time from their busy lives to pause and honor their former Commander in Chief. Although he had risen to the highest pinnacles of power, he went out of his way to meet, greet, and help ordinary citizens. He was a tireless philanthropist who demonstrated that empathy and action for others
are far more valuable than wealth or prestige. In other words, he shone brightly in keeping with the "thousand points of light" he invoked as a call to national volunteerism during his presidential inaugural address in 1989.
Defeat in the 1992 presidential election did not send him into bitter seclusion, as might have been expected. Instead, he and Barbara returned to Houston, the city they had called home for more than fifty years, and immersed themselves in philanthropic endeavors, paramount among them the Points of Light Foundation. To date, the Foundation, which promotes and recognizes individual and group volunteerism, is now the largest organization in the world dedicated to volunteer service. It has supported endeavors encompassing some 20 million volunteers.
Another significant outreach established by the Bushes was the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, which for nearly thirty years has sought to improve adult literacy and thereby lift families from poverty. To date, it has raised more than $110 million and established literacy programs across the nation, impacting thousands of lives- many in the Houston area.
George and Barbara Bush also raised millions of dollars for cancer research on behalf of Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Through their efforts, numerous advanced research programs were funded, resulting in new treatments that extended and saved countless lives. This is a fitting contribution from parents who lost a daughter at a very young age to the disease and had a special affinity toward impacted families. George even once shaved his head in support of the son of one of his Secret Service agents, who had lost his hair from radiation treatments for leukemia.
Bush was an enthusiastic booster of Houston sports. His love for baseball and tennis was well known. He was a fixture at Astros games, where he could often be spotted near home plate. A former city doubles champion along with partner Jim Baker, he was a passionate tennis fan who played in local fundraising tournaments well into his 70s. He was also a courtside regular at Houston Rockets basketball games and attended many NFL games of the Houston Oilers and then the Texans.
When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and South Texas in 2017, despite serious health issues, President Bush was instrumental in fundraising efforts to help the displaced. These good deeds included the organization of a star-studded fundraising concert attended by all five living former presidents. A number of his country music friends performed and $2.6 million in donations were raised.
In his later years, President Bush attended events in a wheelchair, which exposed his penchant for wildly colored socks. These became something of an endearing trademark that sparked a fad and elicited a following among Houstonians of all walks of life. It was said that he was even buried in a pair of colorful socks that commemorated his service as a U.S. Naval Aviator.
George Bush was a true Houstonian. He was a model of humble servanthood whose absence will be felt. His were mighty big shoes - or better yet, socks - to fill. Hopefully, his life will serve as an inspiration for future leaders.
The team of ResultQuest salutes the life and legacy of the late President George H.W. Bush.