HOUSTON — George Herbert Walker Bush was laid to rest Thursday beneath the rich soil of Texas, where he arrived 70 years ago as a young New Englander looking to make a new life and ended up rising to the pinnacle of American political power.
After a formal funeral in Washington on Wednesday and a folksier one in Houston on Thursday, the 41st president’s body was taken by train to his presidential library in College Station, where he was buried on a cool and rainy afternoon.
Texans turned out all along the 70-mile route as the train rolled through the towns of Spring, Pinehurst, Magnolia and Navasota, paying tribute to Bush, whose flag-draped casket was borne in a glass-sided train car pulled by Union Pacific locomotive 4141, painted in the baby-blue and white of Air Force One.
For nearly three hours, crowds waved U.S. and Texas flags, placed their hands on their hearts, saluted and took photographs and video, while firetrucks hoisted large flags on bridges over the tracks.
“He served his country in the military and led an honorable life,” said Laurie Gavik, a school nurse who is married to a Marine and has one son in the Navy and another in Marine boot camp. She joined a crowd in a light drizzle outside the Track Shack Express bar and restaurant to pay her respects to a “noble man” in the passing train.
“He was the last president to serve,” Gavik said. “I think he’s the last of a kind in many ways, that’s for sure.”
Late in the afternoon at the presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M University, with Bush’s family, now led by his son, former president George W. Bush, looking on, his casket was lowered into the ground alongside his wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush, who died in April, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.
Thursday’s church service in Houston was a country-tinged bookend to Wednesday’s massive and formal state funeral in Washington, reflecting Bush’s blended identity from the East Coast of his birth and the Texas oil fields of his choice.
Unlike Wednesday, when President Trump and all four living former U.S. presidents watched from the front row, the only living former president in the church on Thursday was George W. Bush, who sat a few feet from his father’s casket at the altar where the elder Bush had worshiped for half a century.
Whereas tenor Ronan Tynan rattled the cavernous Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday with his powerful Irish pipes, the Oak Ridge Boys stirred the more intimate sanctuary of St. Martin’s with their rich Tennessee a cappella harmonies on “Amazing Grace.”
Country superstar Reba McEntire, who, like the Oak Ridge Boys, was a close friend of the 41st president’s, sang a moving version of the Lord’s Prayer, accompanied by just a piano. The 1,000 guests — including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — applauded the performances.
There were poised and clear-voiced readings by several Bush granddaughters, and beautiful renditions of patriotic and inspirational music: “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”
It was all in very personal tribute to a man whom the Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., who was with Bush at his death and with Barbara Bush when she died in April, described simply as “a man that we all adored.”
“We’re here today in the house of the Lord to say goodbye to a man of great faith and great integrity, a truly beautiful human being,” said former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, one of Bush’s closest friends, who was with him, holding his hand and massaging his feet, in the moments leading up to his death last Friday.
Baker spoke of Bush’s “noble character, his life of service and the sweet memories he leaves for his friends, his family, and for our grateful nation.”
At the end of his remarks, Baker became choked with emotion as he paraphrased the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, saying, “Our glory, George, was to have had you as our president and as such a friend.”
On Wednesday in Washington, George W. Bush delivered a stirring eulogy on behalf of a family he now leads as patriarch. On Thursday in Texas, the duty of eulogist fell to George Prescott Bush, 42, the late president’s oldest grandson, who represents the next generation of the Bush political dynasty.
It began in the 1950s, with U.S. Sen. Prescott Bush, continuing with his son, the late president, then to two of his grandsons, President George W. Bush and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and now his great-grandson.
George P. Bush, son of Jeb, was born in Texas and grew up mainly in Florida, but he earned his undergraduate and law degrees at Texas universities. He built a successful career in real estate and oil and gas investment, and was elected Texas land commissioner, taking office in 2015.
Of 17 Bush grandchildren, he is the only one serving in public office.
While Baker, 88, spoke of his longtime friendship and political association with Bush, it was left to the youngest George Bush to speak of the grandfather he knew as “Gampy.”
He spoke of how his grandfather loved to spend time with his family, catching bluefish, tossing horseshoes, eating barbecue, tacos and tamales, and motivating his young grandchildren to go to bed each night by offering “the coveted ‘first to sleep award.’ ”
But he said he instilled his credo of “duty, honor, country” in all of them.
“He left a simple yet profound legacy to his children, his grandchildren and to this country: service,” George P. Bush said.
“George Herbert Walker Bush is the most gracious, most decent, most humble man that I will ever know,” he said. “It’s the honor of a lifetime to share his name.”
Kuzydym is a freelance journalist based in Texas. Hoffman, a freelance journalist, reported from Spring, Tex., and Sullivan reported from Washington. Brittney Martin in College Station, Tex., and Mark Berman and Lindsey Bever in Washington contributed to this report.