Our nation came together last week as we mourned the loss of a truly great American. No matter our race, religion, creed, or political party, we were drawn toward the light that was President George H.W. Bush.
His life spanned nearly one hundred years of American history and was dedicated to serving the United States.
History often records the works of great leaders. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill all led with a sense of service and devotion to their people. But what makes a leader truly special is humility, humor, and a deep moral code guiding their every day.
President Bush embodied those very attributes.
His biographer, Jon Meacham, summed up the Bush life code best in his eulogy: “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course.”
In every walk of life, President Bush did just those things. Integrity guided everything he undertook, and his lifetime of achievements testify to this. He was a decorated war hero in the Navy during WWII, an extremely successful businessman in Texas, Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Chief of the U.S. Liaison to the People’s Republic of China, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vice President, and President of the United States of America.
His sense of humor was always charming, sometimes teasing, but never out of malice or needling. He knew how to tell and take a good joke, and he loved to make people laugh.
He took everything he did seriously and with dignity. His first and foremost goal was to serve the American people to the best of his ability and let the thousand points of light in our communities shine bright by one small act of kindness and devotion to each other at a time.
In his inaugural address, President Bush emphasized this point: “What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”
Since his presidency, George H.W. Bush has remained an example of leadership. For him, it was never about accolades as much as it was about service to the American people.
He was the brightest of those thousand points of light in everything he did. The light that shone through him came from his devotion to his country, to his family, and to God.
I had the honor to pay my respects to President Bush in the Capitol Rotunda and attend the funeral service held in the National Cathedral last week. It was the most moving church service I have ever attended. The testimony shared by everyone there spoke to a life well lived and firmly grounded.
He loved life and loved the people he spent it with. As his son, President George W. Bush, said at the service, “The idea is to die young as late as possible. … As he aged, he taught us how to grow old with dignity, humor and kindness. And, when the good Lord finally called, how to meet Him with courage and with joy in the promise of what lies ahead.”
President George H.W. Bush will be remembered as a true American leader: someone who served totally, cared deeply, laughed fully, and loved completely.
As we move on to the New Year, I hope that in some small way we can embody just a small measure of those traits. If we do, one can only imagine how much brighter the light of our nation will shine.
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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.