“Heaven was ready for him.” Texans say goodbye to George H.W. Bush

A military honor guard walks the casket into St. Martin’s Episcopal Church during the funeral service for former President George H.W. Bush on Thursday in Houston. Pool REUTERS/Rick T. Wilking

HOUSTON — George Herbert Walker Bush rolled down the long, gray-tiled floor of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in his wheelchair just eight months ago to mourn the death of his wife Barbara.

But Thursday morning, it was the former president being carried – slowly and methodically – down the church’s center aisle surrounded by nearly 1,000 friends and family. Guests packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the pews of the white-walled, high-arched church and wiped tears from their eyes as Bush’s casket advanced toward the candle-lit altar.

“Heaven was ready for him.” Texans say goodbye to George H.W. Bush” bwas first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Reverend Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr. encouraged the tears to flow freely as he began his homily and said the former president was never afraid to hold back tears anyway.


“He was ready for heaven, and heaven was ready for him,” said Levenson. “My guess is that on Nov. 30, when the president arrived in heaven, that Barbara was standing there with her hands on her hips saying, ‘What took you so long?’ But then a big old Texas-sized hug from his wife and daughter with the words ‘We adore you.’”

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush eulogizes his grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush, on Thursday at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush eulogizes his grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush, on Thursday at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. David J. Phillip/Pool via REUTERS

The former president’s grandson, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III also delivered tributes.

George P. Bush called his grandfather the “most gracious, most decent, most humble man” he had known and underscored the 41st president’s “simple” legacy of service and dedication to his family.

“We all grew up in awe of my grandfather, a larger-than-life figure,” Bush said. “He’d be the first to host intense horseshoe matchups among family, Secret Service or any willing head of state while encouraging trash talk like ‘power outage’ if your horseshoe was short or ‘Woodrow Wilson’ if you’re long and your shoe hit the wooden back stop.”

Former President George W. Bush embraces former Secretary of State James Baker after he gave a eulogy during the funeral for former President George H.W. Bush on Thursday at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston.

Former President George W. Bush embraces former Secretary of State James Baker after he gave a eulogy during the funeral for former President George H.W. Bush on Thursday at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. REUTERS

After finishing his tribute to his grandfather, the man he lovingly called “Gampy,” Bush gently patted his grandfather’s casket, draped in the American flag, before sinking back into his seat.

Despite fighting back tears, Baker recalled some light-hearted moments working with Bush, whom he called “a truly beautiful human being.”

“He had a very effective way of letting me know when the discussion was over,” said Baker to a loud chorus of laughter breaking up the otherwise solemn ceremony. “He said, ‘Baker, if you’re so smart, why am I president and you’re not?”

Ticking off Bush’s litany of accomplishments — not including, he joked, public speaking — the former president’s friend said Bush’s determination to do the right thing shone through most brightly.

“He possessed the classic virtues of our civilization,” Baker said.

Reba McEntire sings

Reba McEntire sings “The Lord’s Prayer” during a funeral service for former President George H.W. Bush on Thursday at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. REUTERS

Melancholy pipe organ tones serenaded funeral guests as they shuffled into their pews and kissed one another on the cheeks. But that quickly gave way to a thunderous rendition of “America the Beautiful” as the ceremony kicked off, which again gave way to a tender, choir-led version of “This is My Country,” mirroring the rapidly shifting tone of ceremony, sometimes loud and powerful, and at other times mellow.

The funeral also featured an a capella rendition of “Amazing Grace” by The Oak Ridge Boys, a country and gospel quartet, who first sang for the former president in October 1983, and a rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” by country music singer Reba McEntire.

In attendance at the funeral were the former president’s granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager, the former president’s children, George W., Jeb, Neil, Doro and Marvin, along with a number of other Bushes.

Members of the Bush family, including former President George W. Bush, Jeb Bush and Neil Bush, sing the U.S. National Anthem during the funeral service for former U.S. President George H.W. Bush at St. Martin's Episcopal Church on Thursday in Houston.

Members of the Bush family, including former President George W. Bush, Jeb Bush and Neil Bush, sing the U.S. National Anthem during the funeral service for former U.S. President George H.W. Bush at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church on Thursday in Houston. REUTERS/Rick T. Wilking

The former president’s casket then traveled by motorcade to a Union Pacific Railroad facility in Spring, where it was loaded onto a special train. Locomotive 4141 was coated in shades of blue to match those covering Air Force One. It headed to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University in College Station. He will be buried there next to his wife Barbara, who died in April, and his daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried by a joint services military honor guard Thursday in Spring.

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried by a joint services military honor guard Thursday in Spring. David J. Phillip/Pool via REUTERS

People pay their respects Thursday as the train carrying the casket of former President George H.W. Bush passes by along the route from Spring to College Station.

People pay their respects Thursday as the train carrying the casket of former President George H.W. Bush passes by along the route from Spring to College Station. David J. Phillip/Pool via REUTERS

The Texas giant, known for his kindness and ability to compromise, found a home at Texas A&M in the 1990s when he selected the school to house his library and the Bush School of Government and Public Service.

A regular on campus, Bush would often fish in the lake behind the school, play horseshoes with students and visitors, work out in the recreational center and drop in on classes, according to the school’s website.

Supporters of the former president cheered as the special train passed through Magnolia, Navasota and other towns on its 70-mile journey from Spring to College Station.

A banner thanking former President George H.W. Bush was draped near downtown Navasota on Thursday. The funeral train carrying the president's remains passed through town on its way to College Station.

A banner thanking former President George H.W. Bush was draped near downtown Navasota on Thursday. The funeral train carrying the president’s remains passed through town on its way to College Station. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Barbara Ray of Willis drove to Navasota to view the train that will pass with the remains of former President George H.W. Bush.

Barbara Ray of Willis drove to Navasota to view the train that will pass with the remains of former President George H.W. Bush. “To honor a great man is the main reason I’m here. I’m delighted that they’re making this wonderful for us, because we need to honor a great guy,” said Ray. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

 

Brenda Moore was in Navasota to honor the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. Navasota is one of the towns through which the train carrying Bush's remains passed. Moore said,

Brenda Moore was in Navasota to honor the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. Navasota is one of the towns through which the train carrying Bush’s remains passed. Moore said, “It’s time for our country to heal and Bush is a great example of everything we stand for as Americans. I loved his quiet grace and compassion for other people.” Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Beth Amick of Crockett was in Navasota to honor the passing of former President George H.W. Bush.

Beth Amick of Crockett was in Navasota to honor the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. “The Bush family is a symbol of America and they deserve all of our respect. They’re a great example of America. I’m glad to here. I wouldn’t have missed it,” said Amick. The train carrying the late president’s remains passed through Navasota on Thursday afternoon. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Hayley Enoch, Zoey Johnson and Layla Johnson practiced their presidential salutes on Thursday. The trio arrived early in the morning to the train tracks near Washington Avenue in Navasota.

Hayley Enoch, Zoey Johnson and Layla Johnson practiced their presidential salutes on Thursday. The trio arrived early in the morning to the train tracks near Washington Avenue in Navasota. “It’s significant to say goodbye to a decent president and humanitarian. We also haven’t had a presidential funeral train since 1969, when Eisenhower was buried,” said Enoch. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Sonya Lakes awaited the arrival of former President Bush's funeral train through Navasota on Thursday.

Sonya Lakes awaited the arrival of former President Bush’s funeral train through Navasota on Thursday. “He was a great president. He was humble. He was kind and he treated everybody the same. He was one-of-a-kind president,” said Lakes. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Ricky Marie and Robert Robinson awaited the arrival of former President Bush's funeral train in Navasota.

Ricky Marie and Robert Robinson awaited the arrival of former President Bush’s funeral train in Navasota. “We’re out here to honor and support the Bush family. It’s also a big event for our town of Navasota,” said Ricky Marie Robinson. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

James Lawrence of Lufkin drove to Navasota to witness former President George H.W. Bushís funeral train pass through town.

James Lawrence of Lufkin drove to Navasota to witness former President George H.W. Bushís funeral train pass through town. “I drove down just to pay my respect,” said Lawrence. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Crowds gathered in Navasota to pay their respects to former President George H.W. Bush. Navasota was one the towns through which Bush's funeral train passed.

Crowds gathered in Navasota to pay their respects to former President George H.W. Bush. Navasota was one the towns through which Bush’s funeral train passed. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Mourners in Navasota gathered to salute the train that carried the remains of former President George H.W. Bush as his funeral train passed through town.

Mourners in Navasota gathered to salute the train that carried the remains of former President George H.W. Bush as his funeral train passed through town. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Spectators cheered and waved flags as the Union Pacific funeral train carrying the casket of former President George H.W. passed through Navasota.

Spectators cheered and waved flags as the Union Pacific funeral train carrying the casket of former President George H.W. passed through Navasota. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

The Bush family looked on as a joint military services honor guard carried the casket for former President George H.W. Bush from the Union Pacific funeral train at Texas A&M University in College Station.

The Bush family looked on as a joint military services honor guard carried the casket for former President George H.W. Bush from the Union Pacific funeral train at Texas A&M University in College Station. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush was carried by a joint services military honor guard followed by family members at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station.

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush was carried by a joint services military honor guard followed by family members at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station. Jeff Roberson/Pool via REUTERS

Disclosure: Texas A&M University and the University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/12/06/texas-president-george-bush-funeral-houston-college-station/.

 

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