As George Herbert Walker Bush is laid to rest this week, the official accolades are pouring in for the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd.
“A consummate statesman,” the Washington Post called him. “A skilled bureaucrat and diplomatic player,” the New York Times wrote. “Our most successful one-term president,” proclaimed former Secretary of State James Baker, Bush’s best friend of some 60 years.
The unofficial remembrances, though, are just as vivid, maybe even more so. In recent years, for example, George H. Bush became known as the cool grandfather who skydived on his 90th birthday. (And his 85th and his 80th, for that matter.)
For those who lived through his presidency—and his tenure as vice president during the Reagan administration and as head of the CIA, among other posts—other memories likely came to mind when you heard the news that he died. Like the comedian Dana Carvey, doing his impressions of Bush on Saturday Night Live. The gracious thank you notes he became famous for. The second home in Kennebunkport, Me., which became known as the summer White House.
And then there are the ones that have since been at least partially debunked. Then President Bush’s reported amazement at how a grocery scanner worked. The infamous “wimp factor,’’ as a cover story in Newsweek termed it, implying that he lacked the inner fortitude to lead the free world.
Here are a few highlights of these remembrances of a different sort.
George, Dana, and Saturday Night Live
Dana Carvey and the president he satirized actually became friends, according to this account in The Atlantic, in which Carvey showed up at the outgoing president’s White House staff Christmas party to explain how he did it.
“The way to do the president is to start out with Mister Rogers,’’ he said, “And then add a little John Wayne.’’
The show honored Bush with this tribute during Saturday’s Weekend Update segment.
Those thank you notes
He even wrote a thank-you note to Frito-Lay for their pork rinds.
The notes were at once a reflection of his patrician upbringing in Connecticut and a savvy way to build contacts and a political support network.
And he adapted it to social media.
My family and I thank Mayor @SylvesterTurner, his terrific staff, @houstonpolice, @METROHouston, @SBCHouston, @StMartinsDOK — and really all Houstonians — for your professionalism and obvious care in making Barbara’s visitors and funeral guests feel so welcomed. Thank you all.— George Bush (@GeorgeHWBush) April 25, 2018
The Bush compound in Kennebunkport
While Bush was raised in high-toned Connecticut and made a beloved home in Houston, his family had stayed in Kennebunkport, Me., for generations and during his administration it served as a summer White House. He visited the family compound there every summer of his life except 1944, when as a Naval aviator he had been shot down over the Pacific.
“We’ve lost both of them,’’ one resident said mournfully, referring to Bush and his wife, Barbara, who died in April. They had been married 73 years.
While his upbringing served him well in terms of how he thought of service and duty, it derailed his bid for his second term, when he was reviled for being “out of touch’’ with everyday life in America, a scene supposedly secured when he expressed amazement at seeing a grocery scanner at a convention.
But recent reports indicate the scene had been misunderstood.
Bush will be eulogized on Wednesday by his son, former President George W. Bush. But perhaps nothing will tug at your heartstrings more than this photo of his last service dog, “Sully,’’ named after the pilot of the “Hudson River Miracle.’’