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Former US President George H.W. Bush dies aged 94

The 41st President helped steer America through the end of the Cold War.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush
Image: Mark Reinstein/PA Images

FORMER US PRESIDENT George H.W. Bush has died at age 94, his family have announced.

Tributes quickly poured in for the former US leader, a decorated war pilot and onetime CIA chief who also saw his son George follow in his footsteps to the Oval Office.

Bush’s passing comes just months after the death in April of his wife and revered first lady Barbara Bush – his “most beloved woman in the world” – to whom he was married for 73 years.

“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died,” former president George W. Bush said in a statement released on Twitter by a family spokesman.

“George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for,” he said.

“The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41′s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”

Bush is survived by his five children and 17 grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements will be announced in due course, a family spokesman said. Bush is expected to lie in state in the US Capitol.

President Donald Trump, who was in Argentina attending a G20 summit of world leaders, hailed Bush’s “sound judgment, common sense, and unflappable leadership.”

“Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service,” Trump said in a statement.

“As president, he set the stage for the decades of prosperity that have followed.”

‘New world order’

Bush – who was born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts into a wealthy New England political dynasty and was an athletic prodigy as a boy and a teenager.

He put his inevitable political career on hold to join the US Navy during World War II, flying 58 combat missions and being shot down over the Pacific by Japanese anti-aircraft fire. 

After a brief career in the oil industry, he entered politics, serving in the US House of Representatives and as chief of the Central Intelligence Agency before being elected Ronald Reagan’s vice president.

As he accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1988, Bush pleaded for a “kinder, gentler nation.” 

He went on to easily defeat Democrat Michael Dukakis that November.

Bush was a foreign policy stalwart who declared a “new world order” in 1990 and drove Iraq from Kuwait in a matter of weeks with a lightning air and ground assault – and the backing of a coalition of 32 nations.

But he suffered the ignominy of being a one-term president, denied a second term over a weak economy when he lost the 1992 election to upstart Democrat Bill Clinton.

In his post-presidency, Bush turned to philanthropy and joined forces with Bill Clinton to raise funds for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. 

He worked with Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and son George to raise money for hurricane victims in Texas in 2017.

In 2011, Obama awarded Bush the highest US civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush. While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude,” Obama and his wife Michelle said in a statement.

“After seventy-three years of marriage, George and Barbara Bush are together again now, two points of light that never dimmed, two points of light that ignited countless others with their example.”

Longest-lived couple

In April, Bush was hospitalised with a blood infection just one day after his wife Barbara’s funeral, an event attended by more than a thousand people, including four former presidents, including Bush himself.

“I always knew Barbara was the most beloved woman in the world, and in fact I used to tease her that I had a complex about that fact,” Bush said after his wife’s passing.

The two were the longest-lived presidential couple in history having been together for 73 years.

Bush had suffered from a rare form of Parkinson’s Disease, which affected the lower part of his body only, and had used a wheelchair in recent years.

George HW Bush Falls Bush, pictured with his wife Barbara, in March 2015 Source: AP/Press Association Images

In the aftermath of his 1992 electoral defeat, Bush Sr kept a relatively low profile and largely retreated from public life.

Upon his son George W’s ascension to the Oval Office in 2001 (after one of the most contentious election results in history versus Al Gore), Bush Sr was frequently seen at his son’s side at events.

Combat

Son of Prescott Bush, a successful banker and US senator for Connecticut, Bush had a pampered upbringing and attended the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover.

He joined the US Navy on his 18th birthday following the December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, delaying his acceptance to Yale in order to enlist and head off to World War II.

He went on to fly 58 combat missions during the war. He was shot down over the Pacific by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and rescued by a submarine after huddling in a life raft for four hours while enemy aircraft circled.

The decorated war hero and former CIA chief suffered the ignominy of being a one-term president, but led a political dynasty that would win back the White House eight years later, albeit with a leader with a very different approach.

A foreign policy realist who navigated the turbulent fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, he assembled an unprecedented coalition to defeat Saddam Hussein two years later.

US Politics - George HW Bush - American Embassy, London Bush at a press conference in 1977 Source: PA Archive/PA Images

But he also presided over a period of economic malaise and infuriated his fellow Republicans during a budget battle with rival Democrats by famously breaking his vow: “Read my lips: no new taxes”.

After retiring from public life, Bush fulfilled a wartime pledge to one day jump out of a plane for fun and famously went skydiving on his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays.

He joined Bill Clinton – the Democrat to whom he lost his re-election bid – to raise funds for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

In February 2011 Democratic president Barack Obama awarded Bush the highest US civilian honour, the Medal of Freedom.

He was father to ex-president George W Bush (2001-2009) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who was a contender in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.

© AFP 2018

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