At Bush's Funeral, Moments of Humor

Jon Meacham gives a eulogy both poignant and light
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 5, 2018 11:22 AM CST
Updated Dec 5, 2018 12:49 PM CST

George HW Bush was celebrated with high praise and loving humor Wednesday as the nation bade farewell to the man who was America's 41st president and the last to fight for the US in wartime. Three former presidents looked on at Washington National Cathedral as a fourth—George W. Bush—eulogized his dad. "To us," the son said of the father, "his was the brightest of a thousand points of light." For all the somber tributes to the late president's public service and strength of character, laughter filled the cathedral time after time as the late president's eulogists—son included—noted Bush's tendency to tangle his words and show his goofy side, reports the AP. Standout lines from the eulogies given for the 41st president:

  • Bush was "the last great-soldier statesman, a 20th-century founding father," historian and Bush biographer Jon Meacham said in the first eulogy, in which he recounted Bush's plane being shot down during WWII, Bush bashing his head on the plane as he parachuted out. Meacham said that throughout the rest of his life he nearly daily asked himself why his life had been spared. "And in a sense, the rest of his life was a perennial effort to prove himself worthy of his salvation."
  • On a light note, he added that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply cracked, "Never know, gotta ask."

  • He continued, "As Dana Carvey said, the key to a Bush 41 impersonation is Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne." Other humorous lines from the AP: Looking ahead to the 1988 election, Bush once said: "It's no exaggeration to say that the undecideds could go one way or the other." And Meacham said that late in his presidency, Bush's tongue ran amok when he said: "We are enjoying sluggish times, but we're not enjoying them very much."
  • "An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union," said Meacham, who added Bush's credo was, "Tell the truth, don't blame people, be strong, do your best, try hard, forgive, stay the course." Meacham said Bush "made our lives and the lives of nations freer, better, warmer and nobler."
  • CNN reports Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave the next eulogy, and recounted a conversation the men had over Labor Day weekend 2001. Mulroney said he told Bush that he had noted a shift in his mood "over the last eight years from a series of frustrations and moments of despondency in 1993 to ... high enthusiasm" as his family continued to achieve successes. Bush ultimately replied, "Brian, you've got us pegged just right," and took him to a plaque on the Walker's Point, Maine, property that read: "CAVU." Bush explained: "Brian, this stands for ceiling and visibility unlimited. When I was a terrified 18- to 19-year-old pilot in the Pacific, those, those were the words we hoped to hear before takeoff. It meant perfect flying. And that's the way I feel about our life today, CAVU. Everything is perfect. Barbara and I could not have asked for better lives. We are truly happy and truly at peace."

  • Former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming garnered laughs at the outset of his eulogy for his longtime friend, which began, "Relax, George said I only had 10 minutes."
  • He continued, "Now my life in Washington was rather tumultuous. I went from the A social list to the Z, and never came back to the A. In one dark period, I was feeling awful low ... and George called me early one morning, always early in the morning, country music playing in the background, and he said 'I see the media is shooting you full of holes.'" He suggested they go to Camp David with their wives. "George, I am not unmindful as to what you are doing. You are propping up your old wounded duck pal, while you're at the top of your game, you reach out to me while I'm tangled in rich controversy and taking my lumps." And he said, "Yep. There are staff members who told me not to do this, but this is about friendship, and loyalty."
  • He returned to that word: "His epitaph, perhaps just a single letter: The letter 'L' for loyalty. It coursed through his blood. Loyalty to his country, loyalty to his family, loyalty to his friends, loyalty to the institutions of government, and always, always, always a friend to his friends. None of us were ready for this day."

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  • George W. Bush gave the final eulogy, beginning, too, with a line that grabbed laughs: "I once heard it said of man that the idea is to die young as late as possible."
  • "Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him. The guy who answered the phone said, 'I think he can hear you but he hadn't said anything for most of the day.' I said, 'Dad, I love you and you've been a wonderful father.' And the last words he'd ever say on Earth were, 'I love you, too.'"
  • "In his old age, Dad enjoyed watching police show reruns, the volume on high, all the while holding Mom's hand. After Mom died, Dad was strong, but all he really wanted was to hold Mom's hand again."
  • He quoted from his father's own inaugural address: "We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it. What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship. Well, Dad, we're going to remember you for exactly that and much more."
  • Bush broke down briefly at the very end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost when she was 3 and his mother, Barbara, who died in April. He said he took comfort in knowing "Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom's hand again."
(More George HW Bush stories.)

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