WASHINGTON — It wasn't until the very end of the eulogy for his father,, that former President George W. Bush broke down, as he said that the elder Bush was "the best father a son or daughter could have."
Mr. Bush also told mourners at the National Cathedral Wednesday of the last conversation he had with his father, when he was told last week that the elder Mr. Bush had only "minutes to live." Mr. Bush said he was also informed that his father hadn't spoken in some time, but it was thought that he could hear him. So, over the phone, George W. Bush told his father that he loved him.
"I said 'Dad, I love you and you've been a wonderful father.' And the last words he would ever say on earth were, 'I love you, too,'" he said.
Much of former president's eulogy focused on his remembrances of George H.W. Bush as a father and husband, as well as a politician. He discussed how, after the death of his young daughter Robin, "he believed that he would hold his precious Robin again." And he reminisced about the closeness of his father and his late mother, Barbara Bush.
"Every day of his 73 years of marriage, Dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband," he said. He married his sweetheart. He adored her. He laughed and cried with her." Later, he said, the two of them would watch police show reruns, "volume up on high, all the while holding mom's hand. After mom died, Dad was strong, but all he really wanted to do was to hold mom's hand again."
Mr. Bush was the fourth person to give a tribute at the funeral, following his father's biographer Jon Meacham, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and former Sen. Alan Simpson. The 41st president's granddaughters Lauren Bush, Ashley Walker Bush and Jenna Bush Hager read Bible passages.
"He looked for the good in each person, and he usually found it," George W. Bush said of his father. Mr. Bush also briefly discussed how he learned to be a president who served with "integrity" and "courage" from his father.
He joked, "To us, he was close to perfect. But not totally perfect. His short game was lousy. He wasn't exactly Fred Astaire. The man couldn't stomach vegetables," he said. "Especially broccoli. And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us."
"When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States," Mr. Bush said. "A diplomat of unmatched skill, a commander-in-chief of formidable accomplishment, and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor."
"Let us smile knowing dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom's hand again," Mr. Bush concluded.
Simpson brought his characteristic blunt humor to his eulogy, reminiscing about the times he spent with Mr. Bush, his friend since 1962. He discussed Bush's love for jokes and his deep loyalty to friends, family and country.
At the beginning of his tribute, Simpson said that Mr. Bush had told him to keep his eulogy to ten minutes. "He was very direct about it. It wasn't even funny," Simpson deadpanned, to laughter from the mourners.
Simpson also recalled the moment when Mr. Bush broke his "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge. It was 1990, and he had been presented with a bipartisan budget deal. The deal required revenue, however, and revenue meant taxes. "'That sure puts a lot of heat on me,'" Simpson recalled Mr. Bush responded. "It will be a real punch in the gut," he said, but he told senators to "go for it." The bill passed in the Senate with a bipartisan majority, as expected, but in the House, his own party turned on him, and it ended up being a factor in his unsuccessful re-election bid.
Mr. Bush, Simpson said, did not react with anger. It's not about Democrats or Republicans, he told Simpson. It's our country I fought for. The late president's humility was unusual, Simpson noted, observing, "Those that travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic."
He also said of Mr. Bush that he loved a good joke, but "could never ever remember a punchline." Simpson offered his own. "So the punchline for George Herbert Walker Bush is this -- you would've wanted him on your side," he said. "He never lost his sense of humor. Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life. He never hated anyone. He knew what his mother and my mother always knew: Hatred corrodes the container it's carried in."
Meacham delivered the first remarks about the former president. He called the elder Mr. Bush "America's last great soldier statesman" and "a 20th-century Founding Father."
Mulroney, whose term as prime minister overlapped with Bush's time in office, also spoke at the funeral. Mulroney and Mr. Bush worked together to negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the bilateral acid-rain treaty. After the two left office, they remained friends, and he visited the Bush family's home in Kennebunkport, Maine, on numerous occasions.
Mulroney discussed Mr. Bush's foreign policy accomplishments, including presiding over the end of the Cold War and supporting the reunification of West and East Germany. He said that world leaders knew that when they dealt with George H.W. Bush, they were dealing with "a gentleman."
"I believe it will be said that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honorable than George Herbert Walker Bush," Mulroney said.