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‘The most kind and considerate person I’ve ever known’: George H.W. Bush remembered by former presidents and other officials

Journalists, friends and former administration officials shared their memories about President George H.W. Bush on Dec. 2, after his death Nov. 30. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

George H.W. Bush was remembered Sunday by three former presidents and several members of his administration, including former vice president Dan Quayle, former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and Colin L. Powell and Richard B. Cheney, who served as Bush’s defense secretary.

Former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the late president’s eldest son, paid tribute in appearances on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Asked what his father had told him when he became president, the younger Bush responded with the same words the two exchanged shortly before his father’s death: “I love you.”

“And, you know, as corny as that sounds to some, it is the most important words you can hear in life,” George W. Bush said. “You don’t hear a lot of people say ‘I love you’ when you’re president.”

The younger Bush predicted that his father would be remembered as “the greatest one-term president ever, because of his foreign policy, deftly handling the end of the Cold War, for example, reunification of Germany.”

Obama praised the late Bush’s foreign policy as well, noting that Bush “had to land the plane” when the Berlin Wall came toppling down.

“You have chaos potentially in the former Soviet Union and Russia, and uncertainty in Europe,” Obama said. “All those things could have gone haywire at any point. And the restraint, the caution, the lack of spiking the football that they showed was, I think, an enormous achievement.”

Clinton read the note that Bush left for him in 1993, when Clinton entered the Oval Office for the first time as president. “Your success now is our country’s success,” Bush wrote, in part. “I am rooting hard for you.”

George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States, dies at 94

2001 | A portrait of Bush. (William Coupon/Corbis)

“This letter is a statement of who he is,” Clinton said. “That’s why he’s a world-class human ­being in my book. . . . It’s been one of the great joys of my life, my friendship with him. Our arguments were good-natured and open, and we continued to debate things all the way up until recently.”

The casket bearing Bush’s body will arrive at the U.S. Capitol on Monday night and will be on public display in the Rotunda until Wednesday morning, when it will be taken to Washington National Cathedral for his funeral. President Trump has declared Wednesday a national day of mourning.

In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Baker said he spent time with Bush on Friday, the day of his death. Baker said he arrived early in the morning at Bush’s Houston home, where the president ate a big breakfast of eggs, yogurt and fruit drinks. Baker said Bush hadn’t gotten out of bed in “three or four days,” but that based on his energy that morning, Baker thought the former president would “bounce back.”

“That last day was really a very, very gentle and peaceful passing for him,” Baker told host Jake Tapper.

Baker said Bush wasn’t ready to go after his wife, Barbara, died in April, but “by the time he got back to Houston from his summer in Kennebunkport, I think he was ready to go.”

Baker noted that Bush was his daughter’s godfather and his friend of 60 years. Bush is the reason Baker got into politics, recruiting Baker to help with his Senate campaign after Baker’s first wife died of cancer.

“George Bush was possibly the most kind and considerate person I’ve ever known in my life,” Baker said.

Tapper asked Baker whether the era of civility in politics died with Bush. “I hope it didn’t die on Friday, because we badly need to bring some civility back into our public discourse,” Baker said. “We need to stop yelling at each other and start listening to each other. George Bush had a Congress that was totally controlled by Democrats, and look what he got done.”

Powell, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bush, described the late president as “a perfect American,” noting his service in the White House, in Congress, as U.S. ambassador to China and as CIA director, as well as his career in business.

“You name it, he did it,” Powell said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “And then he became vice president for eight years and then president of the United States. But throughout that entire period, he never forgot who he was. He never let it all go to his head. He was a man of great humility. He was humble.”

Powell added that Bush was “a product of his parents, who told him, you know, ‘Don’t show off, George; just always remember, you’re humble, you work for people, you serve people.’ ”

In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Cheney was asked about Bush’s reported criticism of him as “hard-line” and “iron-ass” during his time as vice president to his son, George W. Bush.

Cheney acknowledged Bush’s criticism and said, “First of all, I was more, I guess, of an iron ass when I was vice president.”

He then said that after the elder Bush made those comments, he sent Cheney a note reading, “Dear Dick, I did it.” “And then he went on at great length to tell me what a great American I was,” Cheney said.

Later that year, Bush invited Cheney to sit with him at the head table at the prestigious Alfalfa Club dinner. “That sort of dampened down any notion that there was a fundamental break between Bush and Cheney.”

Quayle was asked by Fox News Channel’s Maria Bartiromo what he believes Bush’s legacy will be. He said that while historians will have their own interpretations, his view is that Bush “got things done.”

“When he left office, the economy was growing at probably 5, 6 percent,” Quayle said on “Sunday Morning Futures.” “The Berlin Wall came down, Eastern and Central Europe freed from the yoke of communism. Apartheid in South Africa was eliminated, success in putting Saddam Hussein back into Iraq, Noriega apprehended. So many things in the short period of time, and the domestic front as well, so, accomplishments.”

Quayle noted that Bush was president during a time of divided government, with Democrats controlling the House and the Senate.

“We had to work hard to get Democrats to support us,” Quayle said. “And sometimes divided government works. It clearly worked in our administration, and you can get things done if you reach across the aisle and work hard.”