"They were selfless," Billy Bush tells PEOPLE of his late aunt and uncle. "They loved their families"

By Aili Nahas Adam Carlson
May 10, 2019 10:00 AM

After the deaths of former President George H. W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush in November and April last year, the nation mourned the loss of two leading public servants.

But for the Bushes themselves, the deaths were much more personal.

Speaking with PEOPLE in this week’s issue, Billy Bush, H. W. Bush’s nephew and first cousin to former President George W. Bush, recalled his uncle’s state funeral in December.

“Many people in the National Cathedral [were] saying, ‘We lost a great statesman, how sad.’ And I said, ‘I lost the guy who spoke at my graduation when I asked him to,’ ” Billy says, beginning to cry as he described another memory.

“I got that from him,” he says, referring to H. W. Bush. “The man cries at everything!”

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Another moment that Billy can’t forget: when, during his first job working for a New Hampshire radio, he was coaching a youth hockey league on the side and asked his uncle to headline a fundraiser.

“He flew a tiny plane over from Maine into New Hampshire and he did this huge thing with all the local people,” says Billy, who will return to TV this fall hosting the syndicated news program Extra Extra. “So when you see that skating rink in Laconia, New Hampshire, think George H. W. Bush.”

From left: Barbara and George H. W. Bush
Ira Wyman/Sygma via Getty

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His aunt and uncle gave so much of themselves over the years, Billy says. To the country, yes, and to their loved ones.

“They were selfless,” he says. “They loved their families.”

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Billy says the funerals were painful: “I went to both … and sat there and cried my eyes out because I remembered just incredible one-on-one moments,” he says.

He thinks of another story, and he tears up again.

“George H. W. Bush wrote each of my children when they were born,” Billy says, crying, but continues, “He wrote them each and said, ‘Welcome to this world. Your parents love you, and you have a dear old uncle who loves you, too.’ “

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