America on Friday bid farewell to its 41st president, George H.W. Bush, who departed this realm at age 94 after a lengthy bout with a relatively rare form of Parkinson’s disease. President Donald Trump has marked Bush’s passing by declaring Wednesday a national day of mourning, and that flags on public buildings should fly at half-staff for 30 days.

Our nation should take a moment to come together to commemorate the death of this remarkable, and wholly underappreciated, public servant. We likely will not see his kind again.

First and foremost, Bush was a family man, devoted to Barbara, his loving wife of 73 years who passed away just eight months ago and who shared with him a life of triumph and tragedy. The couple had six children, including one who followed him as president, one who served as Florida’s governor and one taken by leukemia at the tender age of 4.

Bush, a Republican, was upper crust, born and bred among wealthy, New England elites who, in an earlier time, had ruled America politically and culturally. But the privileged upbringing of his generation instilled in Bush a healthy dose of traits we seem to have lost: decency, generosity, sense of duty, dignity, humility, loyalty.

As World War II raged in 1943, 19-year-old George Bush became the youngest fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy’s history. He flew 58 combat missions, including when he was fished from the ocean by a U.S. submarine crew after the Japanese shot down his plane. That day, Bush successfully completed his bombing run, but he was the only American pilot to survive among nine forced to abandon their aircraft. That incident earned Bush the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for extraordinary heroism in aviation.

After the war, Bush graduated from Yale, but chose to leave New England for the oil fields of central Texas. There, he began building a fortune and in 1964 launched a political career. Bush lost that first campaign for a U.S. Senate seat. But over the next 30 years he established one of the most prestigious resumes for an American politician, becoming arguably the most successful one-term president America ever elected.

Bush led the international military coalition that successfully expelled Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. He won approval for a treaty with the Soviet Union mandating the largest reduction in nuclear weapons in history. He enacted an enhanced Clean Air Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. He also appointed Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court and signed the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Nothing sums up Bush better than his diary entry the night he lost to Clinton: “Be strong, be kind, be generous of spirit, be understanding and let people know how grateful you are. Don’t get even. Comfort the ones I’ve hurt and let down. Say your prayers and ask for God’s understanding and strength. Finish with a smile and some gusto, and do what’s right and finish strong.”

 

A version of this editorial originally appeared in the Lakeland Ledger.