Former US president George H.W. Bush, who guided America through the end of the Cold War and launched the international campaign to drive Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, died Friday at his home in Houston. He was 94.
Tributes quickly poured in for the 41st US president — a decorated World War II pilot, skilled diplomat and onetime CIA chief who also saw his son George follow in his footsteps to the Oval Office.
Bush’s passing comes just months after the death in April of his wife Barbara — his “most beloved woman in the world” — to whom he was married for 73 years.
“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died,” former president George W. Bush said in a statement.
“George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for,” he said.
Bush is survived by his five living children — a sixth child, daughter Robin, died of leukemia before her fourth birthday — and 17 grandchildren.
He died “at home in Houston surrounded by family and close friends,” family spokesman Jim McGrath told AFP.
Bush suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had used a wheelchair for several years. He had been in and out of hospital in recent months, including right after Barbara’s death.
Funeral arrangements will be announced in due course, McGrath said.
The former president, a Republican, is expected to lie in state in the US Capitol and then be buried at his presidential library in Texas, where students held a candlelight vigil early Saturday, local media reported.
President Donald Trump, who was in Argentina attending a G20 summit of world leaders, hailed Bush’s “sound judgment, common sense, and unflappable leadership.”
“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,” Trump said in a statement.
At the White House, the American flag flew at half-staff early Saturday.
– ‘New world order’ –
Bush — who was born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts into a wealthy New England political dynasty — put his studies and career on hold to join the US Navy during World War II.
He flew 58 combat missions and was shot down over the Pacific by Japanese anti-aircraft fire.
He returned home and graduated from Yale University, eventually launching a brief career in the oil industry in Texas.
But the world of politics was calling.
He served in the US House of Representatives, as Washington’s envoy to China and as chief of the Central Intelligence Agency before being elected Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
Eight years later, as he accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1988, Bush pleaded for a “kinder, and gentler nation.”
He went on to easily defeat Democrat Michael Dukakis that November.
Bush was a foreign policy pragmatist who led the United States through the turbulent but largely peaceful end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, which culminated in 1991 with its break-up.
“We had the chance to work together during the time of enormous changes,” former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.
“He was a true partner.”
Bush declared a “new world order” in 1990 and drove Iraq from Kuwait in a matter of weeks with a lightning air and ground assault — and the backing of a coalition of 32 nations.
Despite his success on the international stage, he was denied a second term over a weak economy, losing the 1992 election to upstart Democrat Bill Clinton, a little-known governor from Arkansas.
He later would see his son George occupy the Oval Office for eight years — they are only the second father-son duo in American presidential history, after John and John Quincy Adams.
– ‘Patriot and humble servant’ –
In his post-presidency years, Bush turned to philanthropy — he joined forces with Clinton to raise funds for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
He also worked with ex-presidents Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and son George to raise money for hurricane victims in Texas in 2017.
“I am profoundly grateful for every minute I spent with President Bush and will always hold our friendship as one of my life’s greatest gifts,” Clinton said in a statement.
In 2011, Obama awarded Bush the highest US civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush. While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude,” Obama and his wife Michelle said in a statement.
“After seventy-three years of marriage, George and Barbara Bush are together again now, two points of light that never dimmed, two points of light that ignited countless others with their example.”