George Bush - Death of a Patriarch


Convivium, 6 December 2018

The funeral of President George Herbert Walker Bush moves Convivium Editor in Chief Father Raymond de Souza to meditate on the nature of rightful fatherhood.

The funeral of George Herbert Walker Bush – Bush 41 – at the National Cathedral in Washington was a moving affair. The eulogies were exceptional, and included the customary Reagan-Bush era Canadian content; Brian Mulroney also spoke at the funerals of Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan.

Mulroney, as is his custom, was both mellifluous and vainglorious. Indeed, so often did he speak about himself that he felt it necessary to throw in a bit of faux self-deprecation: “…even a man as modest as me.” He had at the ready a series of anecdotes in which he took the starring role, including a final one in which Bush became overwhelmed with emotion in Mulroney’s presence: “And at that, George with tears in his eyes as I spoke said, 'You know Brian, you’ve got us pegged just right.'”

But enough about Brian, and back to Bush.

Much has been written about him, including some observations of mine in the National Post, National Catholic Register and the Catholic Herald.

His funeral yesterday highlighted yet another dimension. He was buried as a president in the presence of presidents. The eulogists spoke of that, but principally they spoke of him as a man of faith and family, a statesman who was primarily a father and a friend.

George W. Bush – Bush 43 – spoke of a fatherhood which extended beyond his own brothers and sister, a fatherhood which included other men who became part of the family. Most improbably, this would come to include Bill Clinton, who defeated Bush 41 in 1992. He would later spend so much time with the Bushes, and would so readily profess his love for the elder Bush, that he took to calling himself the “black sheep of the Bush family.” Bush 43 in his eulogy said his family referred to Clinton and others like him as “brothers from another mother.”

Which prompted a thought, because they can say that in the immediate family of the current, 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. He has five children by three different wives; brothers from another mother.

And another thought. George and Barbara Bush had six children. The three presidents who followed him had five children combined.

All the Bush descendants were there in the National Cathedral, save for Robin, who died as a little girl from leukemia. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren spilled over the pews on the family side of the nave. He was eulogized as the last of the greatest generation. He was also the standard bearer for the last of the generating generations.

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