Former President George H.W. Bush (R), who was a World War II veteran, businessman, congressman, ambassador, CIA director, vice president, and president, died last night at the age of 94. Bush has been in declining health, and was suffering from a form of Parkinson’s Disease. His wife, Barbara, died in April at the age of 92. Bush is so-far the longest-lived of any U.S. president, and he and Barbara are the longest-married presidential couple.
Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy on the day he turned eighteen and trained as a pilot. After completing his training, he was commissioned an ensign and, at nineteen, became the youngest naval aviator in history up to that point. He was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto, which was fighting in the Pacific theater of World War II. During one battle, his plane was shot down and he was forced to bail out. He was rescued after about four hours adrift in a life raft.
After the war, Bush, who was originally from New England, became a successful businessman in the Texas oil industry, and eventually became a millionaire.
In 1964 Bush first ran for elective office, unsuccessfully challenging Senator Ralph W. Yarborough (D-TX). Two years later, he was elected to represent Texas’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He served two terms in the House, and then ran (again unsuccessfully) for the Senate in 1970. After his second Senate loss, President Richard Nixon (R) appointed Bush as the Ambassador to the United Nations, a role he held for two years.
During the Watergate scandal, Bush become the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Initially he defended Nixon, but, as the president’s involvement in the scandal become more clear, Bush formally asked Nixon to resign for the good of both the Republican Party and the nation. Nixon did so about one week later. President Gerald Ford (R) appointed Bush to serve as envoy to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a role he held for about fourteen months in 1974 and 1975. We did not have formal diplomatic relations with the PRC at the time, so this was not officially an ambassadorship, although it was similar in practice. For the last year of Ford’s presidency, Bush served as the Director of Central Intelligence.
Bush ran for president in 1980, but was defeated in the Republican primaries by future-President Ronald Reagan (R). Reagan ultimately chose Bush as his vice presidential running mate, and Bush served as vice president throughout Reagan’s two terms as president. In 1988, Bush sought the presidency again, and this time won, becoming the first sitting vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836. His presidency was generally regarded as a success, most notably including the first Persian Gulf War, where Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was successfully reversed. Politically, Bush was generally regarded as a pragmatic, middle-of-the-road Republican. He sought reelection in 1992, but, facing a national recession and a broken campaign promise on taxes, as well as a charismatic opponent, he was defeated by future-President Bill Clinton (D).
George and Barbara Bush had six children, including former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) and former President George W. Bush (R).