In addition to his many accomplishments, George H.W. Bush will be remembered for his big heart.
Following the death of the 41st president on Friday, Bill Clinton, Bush’s successor in the Oval Office, penned an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he reflected on how one extraordinary act of kindness best exemplified what an “honorable, gracious and decent man” Bush was throughout his life.
Although it is customary for departing presidents to write a letter to the incoming commander in chief, Clinton was — and remains — touched by the supportive words Bush wrote in a letter dated Jan. 20, 1993, weeks after losing the presidential election to him.
“Dear Bill,” the letter begins. “When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too. I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.”
Offering up a piece of advice, Bush continued: “There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.”
Without making any mention of their differing political opinions, the Republican wished his Democratic successor the best of luck.
“You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you,” he wrote.
The letter, which has been regarded as a heartwarming example of how politicians from across the aisle can put aside their political differences to maintain civility and respect for the Oval Office, has gone viral on social media in the wake of Bush’s death.
After sharing the text of the letter, Clinton, 72, wrote that “no words of mine or others can better reveal the heart of who he was than those he wrote himself.”
“His friendship has been one of the great gifts of my life. From Indonesia to Houston, from the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast to Kennebunkport — where just a few months ago we shared our last visit, as he was surrounded by his family but clearly missing Barbara — I cherished every opportunity I had to learn and laugh with him. I just loved him,” Clinton added.
“Given what politics looks like in America and around the world today, it’s easy to sigh and say George H.W. Bush belonged to an era that is gone and never coming back — where our opponents are not our enemies, where we are open to different ideas and changing our minds, where facts matter and where our devotion to our children’s future leads to honest compromise and shared progress,” he continued, adding that Bush would never stand for such a dismissive attitude.
“I know what he would say: ‘Nonsense. It’s your duty to get that America back,'” Clinton added.
Following Bush’s death, many pointed out that President Donald Trump referenced the late president’s signature phrase about volunteerism — “a thousand points of light” — in a statement regarding Bush’s legacy, even though he had previously ridiculed it at a rally in July.
“Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service — to be, in his words, ‘a thousand points of light’ illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world,” the statement read.
Although Trump did not attend former First Lady Barbara Bush’s funeral in April, the president plans to be in attendance at Bush’s funeral, and will also mark Wednesday as a national day of mourning.
“The President and First Lady will attend the funeral for President George H.W. Bush at the National Cathedral in Washington,” the White House tweeted on Saturday.
The former president died on Friday night at 10:10 p.m., his spokesperson Jim McGrath confirmed. He was 94.
“George Herbert Walker Bush, World War II naval aviator, Texas oil pioneer, and 41st President of the United States of America, died on November 30, 2018. He was 94 and is survived by his five children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren, eight great grandchildren, and two siblings,” the former president’s office said in a statement. “He was preceded in death by his wife of 73 years, Barbara; his second child Pauline ‘Robin’ Bush; and his brothers Prescott and William or ‘Bucky’ Bush.”