George H.W. Bush was an honorable man. He was gracious and humble, too, and not the kind of fake humility that so many politicians today spout.
And more than anything, the 41st president loved America.
With the passing of the 94-year-old Bush on Friday, warm memories of the president have washed over the internet and (most) news outlets. And one story making the rounds gives a real insight into just what kind of man Bush was throughout his life.
After suffering a crushing defeat by Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election, Bush had to pack up and get out of the White House by January 20, 1993. On his last day there, Bush sat at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office and penned a letter to his successor.
"Dear Bill," Bush wrote.
"When I walked into this office just now, I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
"I wish you great happiness here.
"I never felt the loneliness some presidents have described. There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice, but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
"You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
"Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
Bush and Clinton had battled in a bitter election, yet Bush rose above partisan politics to champion his one-time foe. And Clinton, in an op-ed published Saturday in The Washington Post, said the letter moved him deeply.
No words of mine or others can better reveal the heart of who he was than those he wrote himself. He was an honorable, gracious and decent man who believed in the United States, our Constitution, our institutions and our shared future. And he believed in his duty to defend and strengthen them, in victory and defeat. He also had a natural humanity, always hoping with all his heart that others’ journeys would include some of the joy that his family, his service and his adventures gave him.
His friendship has been one of the great gifts of my life. From Indonesia to Houston, from the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast to Kennebunkport, Maine — where just a few months ago we shared our last visit, as he was surrounded by his family but clearly missing Barbara — I cherished every opportunity I had to learn and laugh with him. I just loved him.