George H. W. Bush had one of the most impressive resumes of any US president

Mr George H. W. Bush served as president from 1989 to 1993 and steered the US through a tumultuous period in world affairs.
Mr George H. W. Bush served as president from 1989 to 1993 and steered the US through a tumultuous period in world affairs.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST) - Mr George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd, who steered the nation through a tumultuous period in world affairs but was denied a second term after support for his presidency collapsed under an economic downturn and his seeming inattention to domestic affairs, died on Friday. He was 94.

His death came less than eight months after that of his wife Barbara Bush on April 17. The couple had been married for 73 years.

Mr Bush had been treated for an infection that had spread to his blood a day after attending his wife's funeral. He also had a form of Parkinson's disease that forced him to use a wheelchair in recent years.

In 2013, he was in dire enough shape with bronchitis that former president George W. Bush, his son, solicited ideas for a eulogy.

But he proved resilient each time. In 2013, he told well-wishers, through an aide, to "put the harps back in the closet".

Mr George H. W. Bush, a Republican, served as president from 1989 to 1993. A decorated navy pilot who was shot down in the Pacific in 1944, he was the last of the World War II generation to occupy the Oval Office.

 

He was a skilled bureaucratic and diplomatic player who, as president, helped end four decades of Cold War and the threat of nuclear engagement with a nuanced handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe.

Yet for all his success in the international arena, his presidency faltered as voters seemed to perceive him as detached from their everyday lives.

In an election in 1992 that turned on the economy, they chose a relatively little-known Democratic governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, a baby boomer, ushering in a generational shift in American leadership.

If Mr Bush's term helped close out one era abroad, it opened another.

In January 1991, he assembled a global coalition to eject Iraqi invaders from Kuwait, sending hundreds of thousands of troops in a triumphant military campaign that to many Americans helped purge the ghosts of Vietnam.

But the victory also brought years of American preoccupation with Iraq, leading to the decision by his son George W. Bush in 2003 to topple the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, in a war that taxed US resources and patience.

The elder Bush entered the White House with one of the most impressive résumés of any president. He had been a two-term congressman from Texas, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, US envoy to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and vice-president, under then President Ronald Reagan.

Mr George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924. He grew up in tony Greenwich, Connecticut, the second of five children of Mr Prescott Bush and the former Dorothy Walker. His father was an Ohio native and business executive who became a Wall Street banker and a senator from Connecticut, setting a course for the next two generations of Bush men to follow. His mother, a Maine native, was the daughter of a wealthy investment banker.

Mr George H. W. Bush had a competitive nature and considerable ambition that were not easy to discern under the sheen of his New England politesse and his earnest generosity. He was an honours graduate of Yale University, but was often at a loss for words in public, especially when it came to talking about himself.

Mr Bush came to the Oval Office under the towering, sharply defined shadow of Mr Ronald Reagan, a onetime rival for whom he had served as vice-president.

After the earthquake and tsunami that devastated African and Asian nations in 2005, Mr George H. W. Bush collaborated with Mr Clinton, his former adversary, to lead private relief efforts that raised nearly US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) in the United States. 

So close did the unlikely friendship of the 41st and 42nd presidents become, that the 43rd joked: “My mother calls him my fourth brother.”

In 1997, Mr  George H. W. Bush made a parachute jump for the first time since bailing out over the Pacific. He did it again in 2000 to mark his 75th birthday – and still again for his 80th, 85th and 90th ones.

“Old guys can do neat things,” he said.