The United States’ five living presidents, family, friends, dignitaries from around the country and world filled Washington National Cathedral for a service on Wednesday to honor the 41st president, George H.W. Bush.
Here are the major highlights from the day’s events. [Find full coverage of the funeral here.]
Choked with emotion, a former president eulogized both his predecessor and his father.
Former President George W. Bush held back tears throughout the eulogy for his father, breaking down briefly as he concluded his remarks. In a 12-minute tribute, he remembered his father as an imperfect, but beloved man who gave him wisdom as a president and a father.
“Through our tears, let us see the blessings of knowing and loving you — a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have,” he said. “And in our grief, let us smile knowing Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again,” Mr. Bush concluded, becoming tearful as he mentioned his late mother, Barbara, and Robin, his sister who died at the age of 3.
While speakers honored Mr. Bush’s service to his country, they also remembered his humor and quirks.
The 41st president had a significant political legacybeyond the presidency, including serving as C.I.A. director and ambassador to China. But speakers also focused on the elder Mr. Bush’s sense of humor and quirks as they remembered him.
Jon Meacham, Mr. Bush’s biographer, recalled how he accidentally shook the hand of a store mannequin while on the campaign trail in New Hampshire.
Former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming recalled how Mr. Bush, despite his love for jokes, constantly forgot the punch lines and told stories of how the pair sang songs from the musical “Evita” and joked about the origins of an ornate vase.
And the younger Mr. Bush made the crowd laugh as he recalled his father’s imperfections, including his poor dancing and his aversion to vegetables, particularly broccoli. (He also recalled how James Baker, an old friend and the elder Mr. Bush’s chief of staff, smuggled him a bottle of Grey Goose vodka and a steak from Morton’s.)
In a rare occurrence, all living presidents and first ladies gathered in the same pew.
Only a handful of other occasions have seen all living presidents and their spouses gather in the same place, and Mr. Bush’s funeral became the latest instance where these former occupants of the White House came together.
Such a reunion made for some inevitable awkward moments. When President Trump and Melania Trump arrived, conversation in the presidential pew at the funeral appeared to cease. The Obamas offered handshakes and tight-lipped smiles, while f Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, stared ahead and did not make eye contact with the man who defeated her in the 2016 presidential election.
But there was an endearing moment: When former President George W. Bush arrived and greeted all of the presidential dignitaries, he appeared to slip Michelle Obama, the former first lady, a cough drop — the same way he did during Senator John McCain’s funeral in September.
To honor a president and World War II veteran, there was an impressive show of military honors.
Mr. Bush, who his son described as having been “born with just two settings: full throttle, then sleep,” eschewed some of the pomp and circumstance his predecessors had planned for in their own funerals. But, having followed the tradition of planning his funeral while still in office, there had been decades of preparations and practice to execute his wishes.
An honor guard, changing frequently throughout the day, stood over his coffin in the Capitol for over two nights. And there was a precise amount of “Ruffles and Flourishes,” the fanfare that precedes “Hail to the Chief” (16), 21-gun salutes (three) and tolls from the funeral bell as his coffin arrived at Washington National Cathedral (41).
The hearse and motorcade passed the White House on the section of Pennsylvania Avenue that is typically closed to cars.
Read on for more details from our live updates from the day.
“To us, his was the brightest of 1,000 points of light.”
The younger former President Bush evoked laughter and tears — his own and that of mourners listening to him in the National Cathedral — with a 12-minute tribute to his father that seemed to emphasize the gaping differences between the elder President Bush and Mr. Trump, without ever naming the current Oval Office occupant.
Mr. Bush described his father as a genuinely optimistic and selfless man who “valued character over pedigree,” looked for the good in everyone, and shared credit in victory while shouldering blame in defeat.
“To us, his was the brightest of 1,000 points of light,” Mr. Bush said, invoking a phrase that the elder Mr. Bush used, which Mr. Trump had ridiculed.
He recalled the 41st president’s many active hobbies — fishing, driving his speedboat, playing “speed golf,” an accelerated version of the game to which Mr. Trump devotes many hours — and said he had been “born with just two settings: full throttle, then sleep.” And Mr. Bush noted with a laugh some of his father’s imperfections, including his poor dancing skills and hatred of vegetables, particularly broccoli.
“He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country,” Mr. Bush added, concluding his eulogy on a personal note.
“Through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you — a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter can have — and in our grief, let us smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again,” Mr. Bush said, becoming tearful as he referred to the late Barbara Bush and their daughter, who died at the age of 3.
The cathedral erupted in applause as Mr. Bush strode back to his seat. He shared a laugh with his brother Jeb, apparently chuckling at his inability to hold off tears as he finished his tribute to his father.
“You would have wanted him on your side.”
Former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming began his remarks by recalling how Mr. Bush insisted that he keep his eulogy brief.
“Relax, George told me I only had 10 minutes,” he said. “He was very direct about it, it wasn’t even funny.”
The crowd of politicians and dignitaries laughed throughout his speech, as Mr. Simpson regaled the audience with stories of their long friendship: a weekend at Camp David, their joking analysis of a vase at the Kennedy Center and their renditions of “Don’t Cry
For Me, Argentina” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Evita.”
And even as he laughed about Mr. Bush’s inability to remember the punch lines to the jokes he loved, Mr. Simpson gave his so-called punch line to the 41st president’s life.
“You would have 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.”
The younger President Bush rocked forward in his seat as he laughed over Mr. Simpson’s recollection of his father’s famous “read my lips, no new taxes” campaign promise.
“None of us were ready for this day,” Mr. Simpson said. “It would have been so much easier to celebrate his life with him here, but he is gone, irrevocably gone.”
“Now we have loosed our grip upon him,” he added, “but we shall always retain his memory in our hearts.”
Remembering Mr. Bush’s service and his “steadfast” heart.
Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author and Mr. Bush’s biographer, delivered the first eulogy for the 41st president, calling him “America’s last great soldier-statesman.”
He recounted the day Mr. Bush’s plane was shot down in the Pacific during World War II and some of the more amusing moments of Mr. Bush’s political career, including comedian Dana Carvey’s impression of him on “Saturday Night Live” and the time he accidentally shook the hand of a store mannequin while greeting voters on the campaign trail.
As he described the elder Bush’s personality — “his tongue may have run amok at moments, but his heart was steadfast” — his children, including George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, smiled.
Mr. Meacham also alluded to Mr. Bush’s bipartisan efforts and foreign policy work, including the fact that under his administration, “a wall fell in Berlin, a dictator’s aggression did not stand.”
“The rest of his life was a perennial effort to prove himself worthy of his salvation,” Mr. Meacham concluded. “A lion who not only led us, but who loved us. That’s why he was spared.”
In the funeral itself and news coverage of Mr. Bush’s death, many references have been made to Mr. Bush surviving his plane being shot down during World War II. Senator Susan Collins, the Maine Republican and a close friend of Mr. Bush, said he once told her that he thought every day of the two airmen who did not escape the crash and perished.
After he was done speaking, NBC News reported that Mr. Meacham had shared his eulogy with Mr. Bush before he died.
An awkward moment as President Trump and the first lady arrive.
President Trump and Melania Trump arrived at the cathedral to an awkward moment. The two were led to their seats next to the other former presidents in the front row. By protocol, they sat next to Barack and Michelle Obama. Mr. Trump reached over to first shake Mr. Obama’s hand and then Mrs. Obama’s. None of them looked happy about it.
This was the first time Mr. Trump has been with the former presidents since his inauguration nearly two years ago. In the interim, he has harshly attacked each of them except Jimmy Carter, who has offered accommodating words about the incumbent president and agreed that he was being treated unfairly by the news media.
As they slid into the presidential pew, the Trumps received a cold greeting. After the handshakes with the Obamas, former president Bill Clinton briefly glanced Mr. Trump’s way.
Mrs. Clinton stared straight ahead.
A reference to Trump amid a eulogy.
Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada, a dear friend of Mr. Bush’s, recalled during his eulogy that it was the 41st president who had been responsible for beginning to negotiate Nafta, the trilateral trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that Mr. Trump has harshly denounced and from which he recently threatened to withdraw.
Mr. Mulroney, standing just steps away from Mr. Trump as he spoke, described the agreement as “recently modernized and improved” by subsequent administrations, a glancing reference to the current president’s newly negotiated and renamed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Mr. Mulroney reflected on the historical significance of Mr. Bush’s presidency, recalling his role in reunifying Germany and his leadership during the first gulf war. But the most poignant moments of his speech were his descriptions of personal moments with Mr. Bush.
“Brian, I just learned the fundamental principle of international affairs,” Mr. Mulroney recalled Mr. Bush saying to him during a coffee break at his first NATO summit meeting in Brussels. “The smaller the country, the longer the speech.”
Mr. Mulroney recounted a visit he made to Mr. Bush at his compound in Kennebunkport, Me., on Labor Day weekend 2001, in which the former president seemed content and at peace, with the presidential library set, his eldest son having recently been elected president and his younger son Jeb serving as governor of Florida. His friend told him how his mood had shifted over the years from frustration to tranquillity.
“You know Brian, you’ve got us pegged just right,” Mr. Mulroney said Mr. Bush had told him. Then he walked Mr. Mulroney down to a spot overlooking the ocean at Walker’s Point and showed him a plaque that bore the inscription “CAVU,” which as a young pilot he knew as the acronym for “ceiling and visibility unlimited.”
“Those were the words we hoped to hear before takeoff — it meant perfect flying — and that’s the way I feel about our life today,” Mr. Mulroney said Mr. Bush had told him. “CAVU: Everything is perfect. Barb and I could not have asked for better lives. We are truly happy, and truly at peace.”
The list of speakers includes family, friends and former leaders.
The main eulogy was delivered by his eldest son, former President George W. Bush. Other tributes were made by his friends, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada and former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, and by his biographer, the historian Jon Meacham.
Three of his granddaughters, Lauren Bush Lauren, Ashley Walker Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, gave readings. His hometown minister, the Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson Jr., of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, delivered a homily. And Ronan Tynan, the Irish soloist who sang to Mr. Bush on the last day of his life, performed along with a variety of military musical groups.
The officiating clergy include the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Washington diocese; and the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, the dean of Washington National Cathedral. The minister of ceremonies is the Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan of the cathedral and the intercessor is the Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope, the provost of the cathedral.
The cathedral’s bourdon bell tolled 41 times. After the service, the coffin will be taken to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington for the flight back to Houston.
A funeral decades in the making
The pomp, pageantry and military precision with which Mr. Bush’s funeral unfolded on Wednesday was a product of decades of planning and practice by military officials and the late president himself. American presidents begin the somewhat macabre exercise of designing their own funerals almost from the moment they are sworn in, the better to put their own personal stamps on an event that amounts to their final official act and message to the nation.
Coordinated by the Army’s Military District of Washington, which oversees the division’s official ceremonial units, Mr. Bush’s funeral is unfolding according to a lengthy and detailed script, a publicly distributed overview of which stretches for more than 20 pages. The plan lays out which anthems and hymns are to be played and when — right down to the number of “Ruffles and Flourishes,” the fanfare that precedes “Hail to the Chief” (16 of them were scheduled for Wednesday) — how many 21-gun salutes are to ring out (three), and how many times the funeral bell should sound when his coffin reached the National Cathedral (41, naturally).
White marks on the Capitol steps showed members of the military honor guard exactly where to stand, and family members were shown their precise places to line up to honor Mr. Bush as he departed the Capitol and arrived at the National Cathedral.
For all the traditions and customs that infused the day, Mr. Bush did what he could to keep his funeral moving along at an efficient clip, according to his longtime spokesman Jim McGrath. He eschewed a military procession including a horse-drawn caisson pulling his coffin and a riderless horse — flourishes that Ronald Reagan included in his funeral in 2004 — in favor of a hearse and motorcade.
A former president greets his “partner in crime.”
The Bush family entered the cathedral led by former President George W. Bush with Laura Bush holding his arm. They were followed by his siblings, Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Doro and their spouses.
George W. Bush made a point of greeting Mr. Trump and the first lady and then all of the former presidents and their wives. Mr. Bush got a smile from Michelle Obama, with whom he has forged an unlikely friendship in recent years. She fondly called him her “partner in crime” because they are usually seated next to each other at events like this.
Mr. Bush also appeared to hand Ms. Obama something as they shook hands, evoking the viral moment from the funeral of Senator John McCain when Mr. Bush handed a cough drop to Ms. Obama in the middle of the proceedings.
The Bush family and members of Congress watch the coffin leave the Capitol.
The Bush family gathered in front of the Capitol on Wednesday morning under gray skies, hands over their hearts, to watch Mr. Bush’s coffin leave the building. Four of the president’s five living children, former President George W. Bush, former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, Doro Bush Koch and Neil Bush, along with their spouses, formed a row in the Capitol driveway for the elaborate departure ceremony, with more relatives, including former first daughters Barbara and Jenna Bush, the younger Mr. Bush’s daughters, looking on from farther away.
A military band played the official presidential anthem as an honor guard held Mr. Bush’s coffin at the top of the Capitol steps, and a 21-gun salute rang out from cannons assembled at the base of Capitol Hill. Then the honor guard slowly carried the coffin down to a waiting hearse while mournful hymns played. The Capitol grounds fell silent as the hearse drove away, bound for the National Cathedral and Mr. Bush’s official state funeral in northwestern Washington.
The younger Mr. Bush waved from the motorcade at onlookers lining Constitution Avenue to catch a glimpse of the 41st president’s funeral procession.