WASHINGTON—Future historians will declare that no American president was “more courageous, more principled and more honourable than George Herbert Walker Bush,” former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney said in an eulogy at Wednesday’s state funeral.
“Let me tell you that, when George Bush was president of the United States of America, every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman. A genuine leader. One who was distinguished, resolute and brave,” Mulroney, a longtime friend of Bush, said at the National Cathedral in Washington.
Mulroney hailed Bush for his World War II military service; his handling of the implosion of the Soviet Union; his leadership in the Gulf War; the Americans with Disabilities Act; and the North American Free Trade Agreement they negotiated together, which “created the largest and richest free trade area in the history of the world.”
Mulroney also praised Bush’s “strong” environmental legislation, including his 1990 strengthening of the Clean Air Act and a 1991 acid rain treaty with Canada that Mulroney described as a “splendid gift to future generations” in both countries.
“There’s a word for this: It’s called leadership. Leadership,” Mulroney said.
Bush, a Republican who served as America’s 41st president from 1989 to 1993, died on Dec. 1 at age 94. Brian Mulroney, Progressive Conservative prime minister from 1984 to 1993, said that Bush asked him to speak about three years ago.
Bush’s son, 43rd president George W. Bush, delivered the last eulogy, choking up at the end as he contemplated his father in the afterlife. Other eulogies were given by biographer Jon Meacham and former Republican senator Alan Simpson.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered flags lowered to half-mast on Wednesday at federal buildings in Canada and the U.S., including the embassy in Washington. His government was represented at the funeral by Ambassador David MacNaughton and MP Scott Brison.
“He was a man of great civility, a great patriot and a true friend of Canada,” Scott Brison said on Twitter.
Members of the Canadian military stood and saluted as Bush’s hearse passed the embassy on Pennsylvania Ave.
“We remember your service. We remember your dedication. We remember your leadership. The @CanadianForces salutes you, Sir,” the military said on Twitter.
The funeral drew together political adversaries. President Donald Trump, who has mocked Bush’s aspirational “thousand points of light” voluntarism motto and his politician sons George and Jeb, was seated beside Democrats Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
The memorialization of Bush has been shaped in part by views of Trump. Even Bush’s ideological opponents have applauded his personal and policy differences with the current president. Some others on the left have lamented what they see as an undue canonization.
Meacham remembered Bush as “America’s last great soldier statesman, a 20th century founding father,” who stood firm against both totalitarianism and “unthinking partisanship.” He said Bush was “a lion who not only led us, but who loved us.”
“An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union,” Meacham said.
Mulroney told a story about visiting Bush at his family’s ocean-side compound in Maine in 2001. Bush and late wife Barbara, he said, seemed serene, “truly at peace with themselves: joyous in what they and the children had achieved” and “genuinely content with the thrill and promise of each passing day.” He said Bush had tears in his eyes as he spoke, then responded, “You know, Brian, you’ve got us pegged just right.”
Mulroney, who also spoke at the funeral for Bush’s Republican predecessor Ronald Reagan, in 2004, concluded with a proverb: “There are wooden ships; there are sailing ships; there are ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.”
George W. Bush said his father’s “decency, sincerity and kind soul will stay with us forever.” He said his father was “no cynic,” a man who looked for the good in each person and “usually found it.” And he said the 41st president lived an aggressively full life, zipping through even rounds of golf.
“He played fast so he could move on to the next event, to enjoy the rest of the day, to expend his enormous energy, to live it all,” George W. Bush said. “He was born with just two settings: full throttle, then sleep.”
Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8