Bush, the 41st president of the United States, lived longer than any of his predecessors. His death at 10:10 p.m. Central time was announced in a statement issued by longtime spokesman Jim McGrath.
He was president for four years but George Herbert Walker Bush influenced U.S. history for decades, taking on tough jobs from Beijing to the CIA, ousting Iraqi forces from Kuwait, sealing a breakthrough budget deal that cost him an election and fathering a future president.
His presidency, which ran from 1989 to 1993, was defined by two events: his aggressive response to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the soon-to-be-broken “read my lips” pledge he made not to raise taxes while running for president in 1988.
At a time when the Cold War was ending and the influence of Soviet-style communism was withering, Bush’s military and diplomatic actions firmly cast the United States as the world’s leading superpower.
After Bush emphatically said Saddam’s aggression “will not stand,” U.S.-led forces routed Iraq’s army in the Gulf War, driving it from Kuwait while stopping short of taking Baghdad, Iraq’s capital. Bush’s popularity rating among Americans soared to about 90 percent.
Twenty months later, in 1992, the Republican Bush lost his bid for re-election to Democrat Bill Clinton, whose folksy manner and focus on the economy struck a chord with many Americans and made Bush seem disconnected from voters for focusing on foreign policy over domestic issues.
Despite a broad coalition that included several Arab states, U.S. involvement in the Gulf War was seen as a violation of Arab sovereignty by some in the Middle East, and led a few militant groups – namely Osama bin Laden’s recently formed al Qaeda – to turn their focus toward fighting U.S. influence. A decade later, the presidency of Bush’s son George W. Bush would be shaped by al Qaeda’s deadly hijacking attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The Bushes were only the second father and son to serve as U.S. presidents – the first being John Adams (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-1829). The Bush political dynasty also included Bush’s father, who was a U.S. senator, and son Jeb, a former governor of Florida who started his own run for the presidency in 2015 but dropped out in February 2016 after gaining little traction.
George H.W. Bush was a moderate Republican known for his diplomacy and ability to compromise with Democrats. He was a symbol of a relatively collegial period in Washington that nevertheless set the stage for the divisive, partisan gridlock that now plagues the U.S. capital.
When in 1988 he accepted the Republican nomination for president, Bush, then Ronald Reagan’s vice president, was trying to win over conservatives who had more enthusiasm for Reagan. He answered questions about his conservatism with an emphatic pledge.
“Read my lips,” he told their convention. “No new taxes.”
Later as president, Bush agreed to raise taxes to help reduce the government’s deficit. The reversal angered conservatives and in 1992 led to an unusual primary challenge of the incumbent president by another Republican, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan.
Bush easily defeated Buchanan for the Republican nomination, but his stance on taxes, the country’s debt and the lagging economy led Texas billionaire Ross Perot to start an independent presidential campaign.
Clinton ended up winning the race with just 43 percent of the popular vote, ousting Bush from the White House after one term.
Bush’s loss in the 1992 election made him a cautionary tale for a generation of Republicans, a lesson that endures in today’s showdowns over the federal budget and spending.
Years later, in 2014, Bush was honored with the Profile in Courage Award for his 1990 budget compromise by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which praised the “decision to put country above party and political prospects.”
In issuing the award for his compromise with Democrats, the foundation wrote: “Although he recognized the 1990 budget deal might doom his prospects for reelection, he did what he thought was best for the country and has since been credited with helping to lay the foundation of the economic growth of the 1990s that followed.”
A major accomplishment of Bush’s presidency can be seen every day across America – from the cut-away curbs on street intersections to the ramps outside buildings that allow access to those confined to wheelchairs.
They were mandated by the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, the law Bush signed that barred discrimination against the disabled in the workplace and ensured them equal access to public accommodations.
Bush backed the law despite concerns from some conservatives in his party about the cost and potential litigation.
Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, into a patrician New England family, the son of financier Prescott Bush, who later would be elected to the U.S. Senate from Connecticut, and Dorothy Bush.
He grew up in the posh New York City suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut, and was educated at exclusive private schools and Yale University.
Bush came to know war firsthand, leaving school at 18 to become the Navy’s youngest pilot in World War Two. He flew 58 missions off carriers in the Pacific, was shot down at sea and rescued by a U.S. submarine.
As the war neared an end in January 1945, Bush married sweetheart Barbara Pierce. They had six children.
After the war, Bush rejected a Wall Street job and, aided by his father’s business connections, moved to West Texas to start an oil drilling firm.
He made a fortune and began a rise to national prominence by winning elections to the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas in 1966 and 1968.
He lost two races for a U.S. Senate seat but Bush’s star continued to rise within the Republican Party.
President Richard Nixon appointed him ambassador to the United Nations in 1971 and two years later Bush became chairman of the Republican National Committee. Another Republican president, Gerald Ford, appointed him as an envoy to China in 1974 and then director of the CIA.
Bush was credited with helping to restore morale after the CIA had undergone investigations into illegal and unauthorized activities. In 1998, the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, was named the George Bush Center for Intelligence.
The elder Bush returned to the White House in 2011. President Barack Obama gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
A tall, athletic man with a friendly manner, Bush had played baseball at Yale and was fond of jogging, golf and fast boats. He loved pitching horseshoes, hunting, fishing and spending time at the family’s seaside home in Maine.
Bush kept an active life until his later years. He gave speeches and went tandem skydiving to celebrate his 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays.
Bush had kept a low public profile after George W. won the presidency in 2000 so his son would not be seen as merely an adjunct to his father. But when seen in public, such as during his son’s swearing-in on the Capitol steps in January 2001, the father could not hide his pride.
In 2014, George W. Bush penned “41 – A Portrait of My Father,” a book he called a “love story” about his dad.
“He was daring and courageous, always seeking new adventures and new challenges,” the son wrote, describing his father as a humble family man who was “determined to live his life to the fullest – to the very end.”