The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

George H.W. Bush makes history by celebrating his 94th birthday

Former president George H.W. Bush leaves the funeral of his wife, Barbara Bush, at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston in April. Behind him are his son George W. Bush and daughter-in-law Laura Bush. (AFP/Getty Images)

After Barbara Bush died in April, there were fears that her husband, former president George H.W. Bush, might die, too. He was hospitalized with a blood infection the day after Barbara’s funeral.

But on Tuesday, Bush made history by becoming the first former president to reach the age of 94.

Gerald Ford died at 93 years and 165 days. Ronald Reagan lived for 93 years and 120 days. Jimmy Carter, born four months after Bush, will turn 94 on Oct. 1.

Bush will mark his birthday with his family in Kennebunkport, Maine, though it’s unlikely he will be able to jump out of a plane, as he did on his 90th, 85th and 80th birthdays. He was hospitalized over Memorial Day for low blood pressure and fatigue but was released on June 4.

Four days later, Bush celebrated what would have been his wife’s 93rd birthday by tweeting about her service to others. The Bushes, who had six children, were married for 73 years, the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history.

Former president George H.W. Bush marks his 90th birthday with a skydive in Maine with a group of Army veterans. (Video: Reuters)

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Bush family tweeted a message from the former president that included a heartfelt thank you for the birthday wishes.

“Although I have seen them all, I can no longer answer them all,” Bush’s message read. “My 94-year-old hands would rebel. Just know I appreciated hearing from you.”

The spokesman told The Post that Bush was having a “very low key day with family, which is his idea of heaven!”

‘You were the reason’: Barbara and George Bush’s love story remembered at her funeral

On Tuesday, his granddaughter, Jenna Bush Hager, posted a photo on Instagram and wrote: “Happiest 94th to our Gramps — the anchor of our family, our compass. I’ve loved being with you in your favorite place, by the magnificent sea.”

The George W. Bush Presidential Library tweeted a photo of father and son together in the Oval Office.

Over the past 25 years, Bush has remained active in public life, with emphasis on volunteerism. The World War II veteran worked with the man who beat him in 1992, Bill Clinton, on relief efforts after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike. In 2005, Bush was named a United Nations special envoy to help with aid after an earthquake in Pakistan killed nearly 75,000 people.

Until the onset of Parkinson’s, Bush was propelled by a kind of “boundless energy” that helped him relish his prolonged status as a global figure, said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. No doubt boosted by the fact that his son, George W. Bush, served as president for eight years, he set out to “put his global prestige to good use.” And he flexed political muscle when he could.

“He enjoyed playing a part in politics behind the scenes, but also in a grandfatherly way,” Engel said. “There’s the old quip about how the best part of being a grandparent is you get to play with the kids and go home at night. I think he made the same approach to politics.”

Bush’s predecessors didn’t leave behind a manual for what to do after office, and their post-presidential paths diverged widely.

‘I thought I was done’: George H.W. Bush faced death at 20 during WWII

After George Washington left office in 1797, he became a whiskey tycoon, making his plantation the site of a distillery that by 1799 had become the largest in the country, according to Smithsonian Magazine. 

America’s second and third presidents — John Adams and Thomas Jefferson — each lived for decades after the end of their terms, and both died on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1826. On his deathbed, Adams whispered his last words: “Thomas Jefferson survives.” But Jefferson had died a few hours earlier at Monticello, his Virginia estate. 

Jefferson’s powerful last public letter reminds us what Independence Day is all about

In 1830, John Quincy Adams became the first and only former president to later be elected to the House of Representatives.

And after William Howard Taft left office, he finally landed the job he wanted all along. At age 63, Taft became the only former president to become chief justice of the United States. In his time as president, Taft had nominated Edward Douglass White to be chief justice with a tinge of jealousy.

“He loathed being president,” Justice Felix Frankfurter said, “and being chief justice was all happiness for him.”

For Bush, a letter penned in July 1992, near the end of his first and only term as commander in chief, gives some insight into how he pictured his own life out of office. It was four months before his defeat by Clinton.

“I think I’ll win — I’m convinced I’ll win,” Bush wrote. “But this little creeping thought comes to mind — if I don’t win, I’ll be a very happy guy.”

He would wash the dishes with his wife. He would go to bed early. He would hold his grandchildren and take them fishing. He would teach at Texas A&M.

“Just blending in,” he wrote, “growing old with grace and kindness, and truly count my blessings.”

And then, every once in a while, a president or a king would come by and say, “I’d like to see old George Bush.”

Read more:

‘One last time’: Barbara Bush had already faced a death more painful than her own

‘Find the joy’: The day Barbara Bush wowed Wellesley’s feminist protesters with a graduation speech

Washington and Lincoln were great presidents. But only one was a great poet.

Jefferson took a blade to his Bible: Presidents, faith and the new Bible museum