George H. W. Bush ’48, the 41st President of the United States, passed away this Friday. Bush, who served as president from 1989 to 1993, guided the country through the end of the Cold War and held office during the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Bush, or Poppy as he was known during his time at Yale, came to Yale in November of 1945 on the GI Bill after serving as the youngest pilot in the navy during his three years of service during World War II. While at Yale, Bush studied economics and played first base for the baseball team, becoming its captain during his senior year. He led the baseball team to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA College World Series in 1947 — the tournament’s inaugural year — and 1948.
He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and a member of the Skull and Bones society. During his junior year, he won the Francis Gordon Brown Prize, which is awarded to a third-year Yale undergraduate for “intellectual ability, high manhood, capacity for leadership and service to the University.”
“One of the great first baseman and baseball captains in Yale’s history, President Bush remained an avid ‘Bulldog,’ a fan of Yale athletics, and an especially ardent champion of our student-veterans,” said University President Peter Salovey in a statement Saturday. “He set an example of dignified service to this country that will continue to inspire future generations at Yale.”
While at Yale, Bush and his wife, Barbara, lived in a “tiny, adorable” apartment on Chapel Street, according to his wife’s memoir. After giving birth to their son, future president George W. Bush ’68 in 1946, the family moved to Edwards Street for a short time before finally relocating to a converted mansion on Hillhouse Avenue, which has since become the home of Yale’s Economics Department.
A Yale man in a Yale family, Bush was a son of the class of 1917 graduate Prescott Bush and also had three siblings, four nephews, two cousins and four uncles who graduated from the University.
“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died,” said George W. Bush in a Friday statement. “George H. W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for. The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41’s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”
In 1998, Bush and his wife returned to campus for the dedication of the portrait in Bush’s honor, which was unveiled in Commons. The oil painting, which members of the class of 1948 commissioned from artist Ronald Sherr, shows Bush in a suit jacket and red-and-white-striped tie at the south entrance of the White House.
The portrait was the class’ gift to the University in honor of their 50th class reunion.
“I took away an awful lot about the real business of living, about the importance of friendship, about the importance of trying to understand the world as it really is, and it’s served me in good stead all my life,” Bush said at the time. “I will always be grateful to this institution.”
While serving as president, Bush had four Yale graduates on his staff — Dick Thornburgh ’54, Carla Anderson Hills LAW ’58, Nicholas Brady ’52 and William Reilly ’62.
Reilly, who served as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Bush, said that he was “proud to sit next to [Bush] and behind our flag at the [United Nations] Conference on Environment and Development in Rio [de Janeiro, Brazil].” The conference, better known as the Earth Summit, took place in 1992 and was created to help member states cooperate on development issues after the Cold War.
“If you worked for him you knew he was classy, modest, straightforward,” Reilly told the News. “You wanted to be those things, too. The immense influence of a leader’s soft power. He was the best American exemplar, no stranger to war and sacrifice and wise in the uses of power and influence, but attentive, respectful and gracious to those from other countries.
Bush stayed involved with life at Yale even after graduation, especially with the University’s baseball team.
After finishing a record-breaking 34-win season in 2017, the Yale baseball team was invited to Bush’s house in Kennebunkport, Maine. There, he gave them presidential pins and a tour of the property.
“Every member of our team, from coaches to players, holds him in only the highest esteem,” said team captain Simon Whiteman ’19. “It’s truly humbling to serve in the same capacity as such an inspiring man.”
Whiteman said that during the team’s visit to Kennebunkport, Bush was a “warm and friendly host” who “loved listening to stories” about the team’s season and the players’ endeavours at school. Whiteman called the Bush family “welcoming, considerate and extremely generous.”
Ben Zollinger ’19, the president of Yale College Republicans, said that the group is “deeply saddened by the passing of President Bush.”
“He was the consummate Yale graduate — dedicated to his family, country and personal values,” Zollinger said. “The Yale College Republicans could not be any more proud to share a university and a political party with such a man.”
Declan Kunkel ’19, former chairman of the Tory Party of the Yale Political Union, said Bush was “the quintessential American hero.”
He added that the world was “a better place” because of Bush.
“I see George Bush as a personal idol, a man who was willing to break from the traditional Ivy League path of comfortable investment banking jobs, straight party-line votes and personal ambition,” Kunkel wrote in an email. “By devoting his life to making the world a better place, Bush serves as an example for all students about forging one’s own path. … Bush focused on making the world a little bit better. I can only hope that one day we all follow in his footsteps.”
Bush’s death comes eight months after his wife, Barbara, passed away. The two were married for 73 years.
Skakel McCooey | firstname.lastname@example.org