Whatever your political persuasion may be, conservative or liberal, Democrat, Republican or Libertarian, some leaders manage to transcend political differences to earn our respect. One such person is former President George H.W. Bush, whose life has been dedicated to public service in the truest sense of the term.
At 89, he is now in frail health. In November 2012, he was admitted to Houston Methodist hospital for treatment of a bronchitis-like cough. He was supposed to be released before Christmas, but was kept in over the holiday because his condition became worse, and he was discharged on Jan. 14 of this year. Bush suffers from a form of Parkinson’s disease, which has forced him to use a motorized scooter or a wheelchair to get around.
He recently made news when he shaved his head in solidarity with the son of a member of his Secret Service detail who’s battling cancer. Patrick, 2, lost his hair during treatment for leukemia. Bush, along with members of his security detail, showed their support for their friend by going bald as well. It wasn’t widely reported at the time, but almost 60 years ago, Bush and his wife, Barbara, lost their second child, 4-year-old Robin, to leukemia.
From age 18, Bush has devoted his life to serving the country. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he postponed going to college and enlisted in the U.S. Navy to become the youngest aviator in the Navy at the time.
Bush was assigned to a torpedo squadron as the photographic officer. His task force was victorious in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, one of the largest air battles of World War II.
He piloted one of four aircraft from his ship that attacked Japanese installations. His plane was hit by flak and his engine caught on fire. Despite the fire, Bush managed to release his bombs, which damaged his target.
With his engine ablaze, he flew several miles before bailing out. He waited several hours in an inflated raft until he was rescued by a submarine. Bush flew 58 combat missions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals and the Presidential Unit Citation, which was awarded to the carrier USS San Jacinto.
After the war ended, he attended Yale University, and following his graduation in 1948, he moved his family to West Texas, where he went into the oil business and became a millionaire by the time he was 40.
Shortly after founding his own oil company, he entered politics, serving as a member of the House of Representatives from 1967 to 1971, after which he was named ambassador to the United Nations.
He became chairman of the Republican Party until 1974, after which he served as chief of the Liaison Office to the People’s Republic of China. He was subsequently director of the Central Intelligence Agency and, in January 1981, took office as President Ronald Reagan’s vice president. Finally, from January 1989 to January 1993, Bush was the 41st president of the United States.
Bush signed a number of major laws during his presidency, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, one of the most pro-civil rights bills in decades. He is also the only president to veto a civil rights act, the job-discrimination protection Civil Rights Act of 1990. Although he was concerned that racial quotas might be imposed, he later approved the watered-down Civil Rights Act of 1990, which increased legal immigration to the United States by 40 percent.
In 1989, Bush created the Daily Point of Light Award to recognize ordinary Americans from all walks of life taking direct and consequential voluntary action in their communities to solve serious social problems. By the end of his administration, he had recognized 1,020 Daily Points of Light representing all 50 states and addressing issues ranging from care for infants and teenagers with AIDS, to adult illiteracy, gang violence and job training for homeless people. The Daily Point of Light continues to be awarded by Points of Light, and Bush continues to sign all of the awards.
Throughout our history, the United States has had a succession of leaders — some good, some bad, some great. Generally, however, many historians believe that it requires the perspective of time to determine their ultimate ranking, which takes about 50 years.
I believe that, in time, George H.W. Bush may be considered among our great presidents.
— Harris Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.