Saturday 21 September 2019

'I'm going to be reunited with those I've lost'

In his last months, George HW Bush did not fear death, but in ways looked forward to it, writes Ben Riley-Smith

GEORGE H W BUSH no longer feared death in his final days and hoped to be reunited with the three-year-old daughter he lost to leukaemia, his granddaughter revealed yesterday, as the world paid tribute to the last Cold War president of the US, who died at his home in Texas aged 94 on Friday.

Offering a moving window into the 41st president's final moments, Jenna Bush Hager, one of his twin granddaughters, said he told her on his deathbed: "I used to be afraid. I used to be scared of dying. I used to worry about death. But now in some ways I look forward to it. When I die I'm going to be reunited with these people that I've lost."

Asked who he was thinking about, Mr Bush said his wife Barbara, who died earlier this year, and Robin, their daughter.

World leaders and US politicians of all stripes, including former rivals, united to praise his service to American public life. Donald Trump cancelled a press conference he was due to give at the G20 summit in Argentina in a mark of respect for Mr Bush, who was being treated for a form of Parkinson's disease.

Mr Trump declared a national day of mourning for Mr Bush would be held this Wednesday. The US president will attend Mr Bush's funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.

George W Bush, Mr Bush's son who went on to become America's 43rd president, called is father "a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for".

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Russian president whose time in office overlapped with Mr Bush, called him a "true partner".

President Michael D Higgins yesterday paid tribute to George HW Bush, saying he will be remembered for his public service to the people of the United States. He said that the Irish people learned "with sadness" of the death of the former US President.

Mr Higgins said Mr Bush led his country at a period of significant change at a national and global level and that the late 1980s to mid-1990s were a period of "deep challenges" to international institutions.

He said: "To his presidency of the United States he brought all of the energy and the values he cherished, drawn from his Texas and Massachusetts roots."

Mr Higgins offered the "deepest sympathies" of the Irish people to Mr Bush's family and the people of the US.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also offered his condolences and said Mr Bush "left his mark on US politics".

He added that Mr Bush "helped to defeat communism, reunify Germany and bring democracy to Eastern Europe".

Former Taoiseach John Bruton said he met Mr Bush long after the former US president had left office, at an event in Co Kildare.

He recalled his "politeness and humility" as well as his "courage".

He said Mr Bush told of how in his later years he trained to parachute jump. It was intended to "exorcise" an experience from World War II when his air force plane was shot down. Mr Bruton said Mr Bush's experience of war led him to be "economical in the use of US military power".

Mr Bush did parachute jumps on his 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays.


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