Senator Lankford Honors the Life and Legacy of President George HW Bush
CLICK HERE for the video of the entire floor speech.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor to honor the life and legacy of the late President George HW Bush. Lankford attended President Bush’s funeral earlier this week at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.
The entire nation paused just for a little while this week to remember the 41st President of the United States. To be able to honor his legacy and his life. It’s important that we also pause here in the Senate chamber, and quite frankly, I bring that same sense of respect from my State of Oklahoma.
He’s widely known, President Bush was, of being our President. Quite frankly, one of the legacies I think he will leave the longest tale on is his commitment to faith, his family, and his compassion for people ran throughout his lifetime.
The conversation during the funeral yesterday here in Washington DC—and it’s happening right now in Houston—centered significantly around his relationship with his beautiful wife, Barbara. Seventy-three years of marriage is quite a legacy, and it is rare in America. It was a gift to America to be able to see that kind of example set in front of us. It’s that kind of commitment to their family and to each other.
They met each other at a dance in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1941 when he was a 17-year-old high school senior and she was 16. And they went out to dance together with Glenn Miller songs playing. Tell me that’s not a throwback to a different time and a different age. They were engaged in 1943—in the heart of the war where he shortly and during that same time period was engaged in working with the United States protecting our country during World War II. He served as one of the youngest fighter pilots, the youngest during that time period.
So his letters have survived and much has been said about what a prolific personal writer President Bush was in his own life. The letters have survived that he wrote to Barbara during that 1943 time period, including a letter that he wrote to her on December 12, 1943, saying, ‘My darling Barb,’ – this is when they were still engaged. He said, ‘You made my life full of everything I could ever dream of. My complete happiness should be a token of my love for you.’ Who writes like that? Other than a man who is just a great personal example to the nation. They were married January 6, 1945, had six children. They were the longest-married presidential couple, married 73 years.
In 1994, Barbara Bush described her husband in her memoirs as the ‘two luckiest people in the world when all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family, and friends, and we’ve been inordinately blessed, and we know that.’
In 1994, that same year, he is still writing her decades later. He wrote her on their anniversary in 1994 with this note: ‘Will you marry me?’ Then he wrote, ‘Oops, I forgot you did that 49 years ago today. I was very happy on that day in 1945, and I’m even happier today. You’ve given me the joy that few men know. I’ve climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara’s husband.’
The love story didn’t come without some challenges, though. Barbara was open about her struggle with depression in the 1970s. She described times saying this: ‘Night after night, George held me while I was weeping in his arms, and I tried to explain my feelings.’ She said, ‘I wonder why he didn’t leave me.’ But he didn’t.
In 1953, their daughter, Robin, died of leukemia before her fourth birthday. The family struggled significantly with that. In fact, even President Bush 43 referenced it yesterday in the funeral here in Washington, DC. But George Bush wrote about it during that time period as well. He wrote about the loss their daughter, Robin, who died at three years old as he wrote to Barbara, said, ‘There’s about our house a need. We need some soft blonde hair to offset the crew cuts. We need a doll house to stand firm against our forts and rackets and thousand baseball cards. We need someone who’s afraid of frogs. We need a little one who can kiss without leaving an egg or jam or gum. We need a girl. We had one once. She’d fight and cry and play and make her way just like the rest, but there was about her a certain softness. She was patient. Her hugs were just a little less wiggly, but she is still with us. We need her, and yet we have her. We can’t touch her, and yet we can feel her. We hope she’ll stay in our house for a long, long time.’
1953. Even in times of personal struggle, their love for each other and tenacious compassion and passion for their family carried them through it.
George Bush was at his wife’s side when she died earlier this year, April the 12th, at age 92.
George Bush’s 18th birthday, he enlisted in the armed forces. As I mentioned before, he was the youngest pilot in the Navy when he received his wings, flew 58 combat missions during World War II. He served two terms as a Representative for Congress from Texas, and ran unsuccessfully for the Senate. Though his dad’s desk when he was in the Senate is right there—when he was a United States Senator.
President Bush served as the Chief Diplomatic Envoy in China, even before the United States had formally opened the official Beijing embassy. He became the 11th Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, at that time called the DCI from 1976 to 1977. He’s the only president to have previously held that position.
Interestingly enough, many people don’t know that the CIA Headquarters in Langley are actually named for President Bush and have been that way for a long time.
It was an interesting season when he was the leader of the CIA in the 1970s. There was a lot of mistrust between the United States citizens and Central Intelligence. President Bush did something at that time exceptional as the Director of Central Intelligence. He actually provided transparency, a radical idea where he would come to the Hill and he would invite members of the House and the Senate over to his house and be able to have informal dinners with him to be able to talk about what they’re doing. He came to the Hill 51 times to be able to testify before the House and the Senate, a record that’s still unpassed by any director of national intelligence. It’s a remarkable record of transparency and of leadership.
In 1980, he campaigned for the presidency but lost. But then was tapped by the person he lost to in the primary, a gentleman named Ronald Reagan, to be his Vice President. Interestingly enough at 50 years old, who I am today, the first president that I really remember watching was President Reagan and Vice President Bush, to be able to see how they handled things. It was a remarkable set of leadership during that time period.
In 1988, he won the Republican nomination for president and then became president, being the first president that I ever had the opportunity to be able to vote for at that time when I was 20 years old. So for my first time to ever vote for president, I had the privilege to be able to vote for President Bush and then the honor to be able to sit in the cathedral yesterday and to be able to recognize the life.
He was a remarkable president for being a one-term president. Pushing back the Sandinistas that were ravaging through Nicaragua, transitioning Europe out of the Cold War, finishing the Cold War without a shot being fired, unifying Germany when most of Europe as the Soviet Union fell and the Berlin Wall fell after Reagan’s famous ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’ The wall didn’t actually come down at that moment. It came down during the Bush Administration as they led Germany out of that and then into unification, even though most of Europe did not want a unified Germany, remembering still what a unified Germany did during World War II. He led through that.
He led as president for Americans to start thinking about other Americans in a new way, to stop saying so much that the government should provide every issue, though the government has a role, but he pushed back on something he called ‘The thousand points of light’ and challenged Americans to take care of their neighbors and their neighborhoods and for us to not look towards Washington, D.C. to solve each problem, but for non-profits and communities and churches and the engagement neighbor to neighbor to able to turn around a nation. It’s a remarkable calling for us to be able to be called to each other.
In 1992, he lost his bid for re-election, but it’s interesting in that. In his speech just after he lost the election, he made this statement. He said, ‘I hope history will record the Bush Administration has served America well. I’m proud of my cabinet and my staff. America has led the world through an age of global transition, and we have made the world safer for our kids, and I believe the real fruits of our global victory are yet to be tasted.’ If he was seated here today, I could tell him we’re still tasting the fruits of that freedom.
He made this statement as well at that same time. ‘Ours is a nation that has shed the blood of war and cried the tears of depression. We have stretched the limits of human imagination and seen the technology miraculous become almost mundane. Always, always, our advantage has been our spirit, a constant confidence, a sense that in America the only things not yet accomplished are the things that have not yet been tried.’ And then he said this: ‘President-Elect Clinton needs all Americans to unite behind him so he can move our nation forward, but more than that, he will need to draw upon this unique American spirit.’
Multiple individuals recently have referenced the letter that President Bush left for President Clinton on the desk in the Oval Office, so when the transition occurred, President Clinton would walk into his new office in 1993 and see this letter that ended with this statement. Dated January 20, 1993. It’s a long note, but it ended with his handwritten statements. ‘You will be our president when you read this note.’ And he underlined the word ‘our.’ ‘I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success is now our country’s success, and I’m rooting hard for you.’
Pretty remarkable statement from someone who’d just been beaten in a campaign, to then turn as an American leader and to say, ‘America continues, and I’m rooting for your success.’
He left office and continued to serve, continued to press this ‘thousand points of light,’ continued to encourage people to be able to serve their neighbors and serve each other, and he continued to love his beautiful Barbara.
He celebrated watching his kids get elected into office, including President of the United States. But he continued to be who he was: a gentle, compassionate, faith-filled person. He wanted the best for our nation.
He showed us how to lose gracefully and not make enemies of our adversaries, and he turned political foes into lasting friends.
Interestingly enough, June the 12th of this year, on his 94th birthday, he wrote a note again to some friends. And in that note that he wrote earlier this year, he wrote, ‘I’m truly touched and overwhelmed by all the messages I’ve received today,’ on his birthday. ‘And although I’ve seen them all, I can no longer answer them all. My 94-year-old hands would rebel. Just know, I appreciated hearing from you. As many of you know, for years, I have said the three most important things in life are faith, family, and friends. My faith has never been stronger. I’m blessed with the world’s most loving family, and thanks to you, I feel the love of the best friends a man ever had. My heart is full on this first day of my 95th year.’
As I walked out of the funeral yesterday, I turned to the person next to me, and I said, ‘I think that’s the first political funeral or event I’ve been before to honor a life where Jesus got equal time.’ In a lot of funerals, it’s all about ‘them.’ President Bush shaped a funeral where it was as much about his relationship with God, as it was about his history and legacy. It is a remarkable reminder to a man who prioritized, as he said, ‘his faith, family, and friends,’ and set an example for the nation.
He was around Oklahoma a lot as well. He popped in and out. He spoke at Oklahoma State University graduation while he was president. In fact, he made a comment about stopping at Eskimo Joe’s, a local restaurant there, and endorsed the cheese fries in front of thousands of people and across the nation.
He stopped in at a different time at Cattlemen’s restaurant in Oklahoma City, popped in and ate a great steak. If you’re ever in Oklahoma City, stop in at Cattlemen’s. Folks at Cattlemen’s still talk about that time when President Bush showed up. Met everybody in the restaurant, he even went back into the kitchen and met all the cooks. Folks still remember it well.
He stopped in Enid with Don Nickles. Don Nickles tells a story—my predecessor Senator—that he went out to Maine at one point when he was the Whip here in the Senate to go have a briefing with President Bush in a small group at his place in Maine, and while he was there, the President offered to take him on a quick boat ride to be able to get over, and President Bush was notorious for the speed boat that he was in and would ram the throttle and go full speed because his boat was faster than the Secret Service boat that was following him, and he loved to be able to outrun them and to take off.
Even after his retirement as president, a story from one of our staff members who writes about a friend who was a student at Texas A&M University where the President had his library there. And he tells the story of a twenty-year-old student named, Michael, who was serving as a personal-aide to the Bush Foundation and how one day in the morning, President Bush walks up to this 20-year-old who is working there and just says, ‘Are you hungry?’ To which he replied back, ‘I’m always hungry.’ President Bush took him to lunch that day. This was in 2004. The two of them sat, the president peppered him with questions about his family and about his background, about his siblings. And Michael got to call his family later that day and say, ‘I just had lunch with the President.’
What was interesting is Michael’s statement which was, ‘President Bush made me feel like I was the president.’
It could be said of all of us, no matter what our titles, no matter what our position, no matter what our place is, that at the end of our life, we would still be talking about our faith, our family, and our friends, and every person around us, we expect compassion and gratitude to them and set a good example for them. It may be in our political discourse, it may be in our homes or our communities. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.