George H.W. Bush and Jim Baker first became close as tennis partners at the Houston Country Club in the late 1950s

By Karen Mizoguchi and Emily Zaumer
December 06, 2018 12:18 PM
David J. Phillip-Pool/Getty

Not only was Jim Baker the former secretary of state for George H.W. Bush, he was also a close personal friend.

Baker, who was by the 41st president’s side when he died last Friday at age 94, delivered an emotional eulogy during the memorial service on Thursday at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, the same church where services for Bush’s wife, Barbara, were held in April.

Calling Bush “a truly beautiful human being,” Baker started, “For more than 60 years, George Herbert Walker Bush has been my friend, and he’s been my role model.”

“Today, as we entrust his soul to heaven, his name to history and his memory to our hearts, I must begin with an apology,” Baker said. “I am about to do something you always hated and that your mother always told you not to do: brag about yourself.”

As Baker reviewed Bush’s political career, he asserted that Bush “became one of our nation’s finest presidents and, beyond any doubt, our nation’s very best one-term president.”

“For millions and millions across the globe, the world became a better place because George Bush occupied the White House for four years,” he said. “He was not considered a skilled speaker, but his deeds were quite eloquent, and he demonstrated their eloquence by carving them into the hard granite of history.”

“They expressed his moral character, and they reflected his decency, his boundless kindness and consideration of others, his determination always to do the right thing, and always to do that to the very best of his ability,” Baker added.

“His deeds for his fellow man always spoke for him,” Baker said. “Give someone else a hand, he would say, and he did. When a friend is hurting, show that you care, he would say, and he did. Be kind to people he would say, and he was.”

He also related a funny anecdote. “I’ve always been proud that George Bush used to describe our relationship as one of big brother and little brother,” he said. “He used to say that one of the things he liked best about me was that I would always tell him what I thought even when I knew he didn’t want to hear it.”

“Then we would have a spirited discussion about that issue, but he had a very effective way of letting me know when the discussion was over,” he continued. “He would look at me and say, ‘Baker, if you’re so smart, why am I president and you’re not?'”

“My hope is that in remembering the life of George Herbert Walker Bush and in honoring his accomplishments, we will see that we are really praising what is best about our nation,” he said. He choked up and cried as he concluded.

Bush’s grandson George Prescott Bush, who is the Texas land commissioner, also gave a eulogy, while his granddaughter Barbara Bush and her cousins delivered a reading.

Barbara Bush
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On Tuesday, at the fourth and final Washington D.C. service, longtime Bush family pastor, Reverend Dr. Russell Levenson, Jr. recounted how Bush spent his final hours on Nov. 30 with Baker. “Secretary Baker was at the foot of the president’s bed and toward the end, Jim Baker rubbed and stroked the president’s feet — for perhaps half an hour,” Levenson said during his eulogy at the state funeral in the National Cathedral.

Jim Baker and George H.W. Bush

Baker, who was seated in a pew next to his wife, lowered his head and sobbed as Levenson continued, “The president smiled at the comfort of his dear friend. Here I witnessed a world leader who was serving a servant who had been our world’s leader.”

“He had a very gentle and peaceful passing. It was a sweet situation,” Baker told Fox News Sunday, fondly describing his late best friend as “an extraordinarily consequential president of the United States, particularly in the arena of foreign affairs.”

Jim Baker and George H.W. Bush

Baker also spoke with CNN’s State of the Union, sharing an anecdote from Bush’s passing. “When I showed up at 7 o’clock in the morning, one of the aides who assisted him physically said, ‘Mr. President, Secretary Baker is here,’ ” he recalled. “And he opened both eyes, he looked at me. He said, ‘Hey, Bake, where are we going today?’ And I said, ‘Well, Jefe,’ I said, ‘We’re going to heaven.’ He said, ‘Good, that’s where I want to go.’ Little did I know or did he know, of course, that by 10 o’clock that night he’d be in heaven.”

Baker, who also worked as Bush’s White House chief of staff, added, “I’m going to miss him. What a beautiful, beautiful human being. A friend of 60 years.”

George H.W. Bush and Jim Baker

Bush and Baker first became close as tennis partners at the Houston Country Club in the late 1950s and would later form a political partnership. Baker led both Bush’s unsuccessful 1970 campaign for the U.S. Senate and unsuccessful campaign for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. Though he served as White House chief of staff and secretary of the Treasury for President Ronald Reagan, Baker joined Bush’s successful 1988 presidential campaign.

The former commander-in-chief’s body will later travel on a train pulled by a special locomotive, No. 4141, from Houston to College Station, where Bush’s presidential library is located on the Texas A&M University campus. He will be buried next to his late wife, Barbara Bush, and their daughter Robin, who passed away in 1953 at the age of three