‘I love you’: George H.W. Bush’s final words on deathbed were to ex-president son
- Bush, who died late Friday at his Houston home, is to be honoured with a state funeral in Washington on Wednesday
- US President Donald Trump is to attend with first lady Melania Trump and other high-ranking officials
Flags flew at half-mast across the United States as Americans prepared for a week of solemn tributes to former president George H.W. Bush who died aged 94.
Tributes poured in from world leaders in memory of the 41st US president, who guided America through the end of the cold war and launched the international campaign to drive Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.
Many of those same leaders are expected to attend Bush’s state funeral this week, alongside President Donald Trump and his wife Melania. Trump was notably absent from the funerals of the statesman’s late wife Barbara, and of veteran fellow Republican John McCain.
Although the two Republican presidents were in many ways polar opposites – the soft-spoken, patrician Bush reportedly once dismissed the blustering New Yorker as a “blowhard” and even voted for his rival Hillary Clinton – Trump paid the late leader a gracious tribute, saying he had “inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service.”
“His accomplishments were great from beginning to end,” Trump tweeted.
Declaring a national day of mourning for December 5 – when the federal government and New York Stock Exchange will close in Bush’s honour – Trump also signalled his respect by calling off a press conference planned at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
The days-long national farewell to Bush will begin Monday with a commemoration in Houston, where the Bushes lived for years and where he died on Friday surrounded by friends and family.
From there, Bush’s casket will travel to Washington on board Trump’s presidential aircraft – in what the US leader called “a special tribute that he deserves very much”.
The former president will lie in state in the US Capitol between Monday and Wednesday ahead of a state funeral at the towering National Cathedral, expected to draw dozens of dignitaries from around the world.
Bush’s remains will travel back to Texas late Wednesday, where he will lie in repose at St Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston with a funeral service the next day preceding his interment at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station. He will make his final journey aboard a funeral train.
Bush was a decorated second world war pilot, diplomat and one-time CIA chief who saw his son George follow in his footsteps to the Oval Office – making them only the second father-son duo in American presidential history, after John and John Quincy Adams.
From former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to current heads of state, leaders praised Bush both for his strength and his moderation, as well as the commitment to internationalism typified by his assembling of a global coalition to oust Iraqi invaders from Kuwait in 1991.
The oldest surviving former US president Jimmy Carter said Bush’s administration “was marked by grace, civility and social conscience”.
Britain took the rare step of lowering flags in government buildings, while Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised Bush’s “unwavering support” for the country’s reunification.
Gorbachev called him “a true partner” in winding down the cold war.
French President Emmanuel Macron mourned the loss of a leader who “strongly supported the alliance with Europe” – drawing an unspoken contrast to Trump’s frequent criticisms of the Old Continent.
Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Bush had been wheelchair-bound and in failing health. He is survived by his five living children and 17 grandchildren.
According to Bush’s long-time friend, the former secretary of state James Baker, quoted by The New York Times, Bush’s final words were to the younger George, who was put on the speaker phone to say goodbye, to tell him he had been a “wonderful dad” and that he loved him.
“I love you, too,” Bush replied.