“I love you, too.”
Those were the last words of former President George H.W. Bush, which he said to his eldest son, former President George W. Bush, in a phone call on Friday night.
James Baker III, Bush’s former secretary of state and lifelong friend, told The New York Times on Saturday about the final hours of the 41st president, who passed away on Friday at age 94.
“It was as gentle a passing as I think you could ever expect anyone to have,” Baker said. “And he was ready.”
When Baker arrived at Bush’s home in Houston on Friday morning, “Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert, his eyes wide open,” the Times wrote.
“Where are we going, Bake?” he asked.
“We’re going to heaven,” Mr. Baker answered.
“That’s where I want to go,” Mr. Bush said.
“There was no question he knew where he was going and who he was going to be with,” said the Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson Jr., rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. “He was looking forward to being with Barbara and Robin again.”
Barbara, his wife of 73 years, passed away in April and Robin, their daughter, died in 1953 of leukemia at the age of 3.
Bush’s son, Neil, was also there, as were other family members and some friends. Bush spoke with his other children by phone in the last few minutes of his life — including the 43rd president, who was put on speaker phone and praised him as a “wonderful dad.”
In Bush’s final hours, acclaimed Irish tenor Ronan Tynan also stopped by the Houston house, where he sang “Silent Night.”
As he sang “Silent Night,” Mr. Baker said, “Believe it or not, the president was mouthing the words.”
Mr. Baker held Mr. Bush’s hand and rubbed his feet for nearly a half-hour. The other children, who live around the country, were called so they could tell their father goodbye.
Dr. Levenson, who arrived at 9:15 p.m., led those in the room in prayer. “We all knelt around him and placed our hands on him and prayed for him and it was a very graceful, gentle death,” he said. “It was very evident that that man was so deeply loved.”
There was no struggle, no prolonged period of labored breathing. At 10:10 p.m., the former president slipped away.
“If those things could be sweet,” Mr. Baker said, “it was sweet.”