HOUSTON – Dignity. Gracefulness. Respect, always respect.
In the church, on the streets that lined up to see the coffin, they kept saying the same words: Barbara Pierce Bush, the "First Lady of the Greatest Generation," as one of her eulogists called her good manners from handwritten notes, decency in disagreement, the ability to apologize. No one's angel, no one is a fool. Hard and fierce, but friendly and fair. And do not forget funny as hell.
The funeral on Saturday for the wife of one president and the mother of another offered the nation a deep breath, a moment of reflection, an opportunity, a family, a generation, a way of life that increasingly feels like enjoying [1
Bush, who died at 92 on Tuesday, embodied the political establishment. She was the matriarch of a dynasty, the woman was clearly responsible. Her hair turned white early, and she never tried to dye it. She really liked things.
She commanded respect and received thousands of letters a week from admirers when she was in the White House. On Saturday, the American political royal family said goodbye, including many women in royal blue dresses and pearl necklaces, some of Bush's hallmarks.
First Lady Melania Trump. The Obama's. The Clintons. Family members of Presidents Ford, Nixon, Johnson and Kennedy. (President Carter traveled overseas and Rosalynn Carter is recovering from surgery.) Former Vice Presidents Richard B. Cheney and Dan Quayle. Former Prime Ministers John Major of Britain and Brian Mulroney of Canada. Governors and cabinet secretaries and senators, generals and CIA directors
Old school, like the bushes. Some are now more stooped than during the first Bush presidency, mostly gray, some sticking to sticks.
George H.W. Bush, who always looked so boyish next to his wife, is wheelchair and in health at the age of 93. However, he sat in front of the flower during a public visit of 6,000 people the afternoon before the funeral. loaded coffin for 20 minutes and greeted the mourners.
That's the way to do it.
At the funeral, the former president sat in the front row next to the coffin of his wife, wrapped in gold and white. Her daughter, Dorothy Bush Koch, better known as "Doro," sat next to him with her arm around her father's shoulder, gently stroking his back, turning the pages of his program for him.
"It was the gold standard of what it meant to be a friend," said eulogist Susan Garrett Baker, the wife of former Secretary of State James Baker, who was George Bush's White House chief of staff. She listed more words that so many used on Saturday: smart, strong, funny, resolute, selfless, compassionate, tender, firm, "a tough but loving executor."
President Trump stayed away to avoid "interference" by the President's safety, according to a White House statement. Trump, in his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, tweeted that his "thoughts and prayers" were with the Bush family. This came right after a multi-tweet about a "third-rate" reporter, a "drunken / drugged loser" and a "Crooked [Hillary] Flunkie" ranted.
Trump finished a round of golf just before the service began and tweeted that he would see it on TV. The White House published a statement by Melania Trump calling Bush "a woman of undeniable character and grace" and a "fearless first lady."
Sitting presidents often skipped the funerals of former First Ladies, but Trump's absence felt more like a presence at times.
In his speech, Jeb Bush did not mention the president, who once called him "stupid as a stone". But he talked about how his mother was the "first and most important teacher" for her five children. She taught them "Please say and thank you," he said, "be nice, always tell the truth, do not denigrate anyone, serve others, treat everyone the way you want to be treated."
The mourners and the eulogists remembered and celebrated not just a woman, but a feeling – a sense of order, grounding and courtesy that seems to be lacking today.
A stream of bad blood flows between Trump and the bushes, from Trump's repeated blows to Jeb Bush as a "low energy" to George HW Bush's dismissal of Trump as a "blowhard". And an angry Barbara Bush also rose in defense of her son. She came to Jeb for a CNN interview during the campaign and said she does not understand why anyone would vote for Trump – especially women.
"I've had enough of him," she said with a brief tug of anger in her eyes.
In response, Trump tweeted, "Wow, Jeb Bush, whose campaign is a total disaster, had to make Mommy beat me, not nice!"
When Barbara Bush lived in the White House, her husband called one voluntary power of "a thousand points of light" to make America a "friendlier, gentler nation". Trump tweets about "Flunkies" and "Slimeballs" and says his behavior is "MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL."
In St. Martin's Church on Saturday, the focus was on a different type of presidency.
Baker spoke wistfully about how Barbara Bush had been hosting her family in the "Washington World" decades ago hosting homeless events at the Vice President's Mansion "when it was not popular.
Meacham spoke of Bush's support for the victims of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and their public embrace of infected children and adults at a time of public ignorance about the disease.
"The images sent a powerful message – one of compassion, love, acceptance," said he.
He spoke of Bush's strength after her three-year-old daughter Robin had died of leukemia in 1953.
A guest at the funeral, Rita Hajjar, who is co-owner of a local pizza restaurant and dressed in a blue suit, Pearls and American flag pin named Bush, "The Best First Lady Ever" was dressed.
"She lived in a political era that was not one-sided ", said Hajjar, who named a pizza after Bush, who has been a customer for 25 years. "She loved everyone."
The gathering full of hugs and kisses was a reunion of old friends and colleagues. Former President George W. Bush turned around and gave old friends his familiar, playful wink. He and Jeb talked amicably during the ceremony.
Men and women who had spent decades deciding on war and peace in this country, from ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Bush adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, shook hands and sang along with the choir. " Amazing Grace ".
After the prayers and blessings ended, eight of Bush's grandsons slowly drove their grandmother's coffin down the main passage. They were followed by George H.W. Bush in his wheelchair, urged by his presidential son.
When the church was filled with the song of "Joyful, Happy, We Adore Dich", mourners stepped out of their benches to catch the hand or gaze or something small attention from the Bush family. The American dynasty left the 90-mile journey to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library for a funeral and for the end of something more than a life.
Sullivan reported from Washington.