41: George H.W. Bush

41: George H.W. Bush December 1, 2018

The Atlantic:

[A day to honor a man, not to comment on his politics.]

He was the last of his kind—the sort who could hold his office without embarrassment or apology, who wore his wartime heroism lightly, who took his duty seriously, but never himself. In contrast to the incumbent of the Oval Office, he looms in memory as the valiant remnant of a Periclean age. …

[He declined an interview with Vanity Fair, and here’s his letter — a letter that reveals the man.]

And for a man so widely mocked as tongue-tied, he saw the world with a poet’s eye. In the late 1950s, mourning the loss of his daughter Robin to leukemia, he sent his mother a letter that was found in her effects after she died: “There is about our house a need,” he wrote. “The running, pulsating restlessness of the four boys as they struggle to learn and grow; the world embraces them … all this wonder needs a counter-part. We need some starched crisp frocks to go with all our torn-kneed blue jeans and helmets. We need some soft blond hair to off-set those crew cuts … We need a legitimate Christmas angel—one who doesn’t have cuffs beneath the dress. We need someone who’s afraid of frogs. We need someone to cry when I get mad—not argue. We need a little one who can kiss without leaving egg or jam or gum. We need a girl.” (His daughter Doro was born the following year).

In his 50th-reunion yearbook at Yale, Bush summed up his life. “Yes, I am the George Bush that was once President of the United States. Now, at times, this seems hard for me to believe. All that is history and the historians in the future will sort out the bad things I might have done from the good things.”

The sorting-out seems clearer, and kinder, and gentler with the passing of a quarter century. And the loss of this last-of-a-kind leader seems all the more poignant, too.

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