George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States, dies at 94
The former president passed away on Friday night at 10.10 p.m. his spokesperson Jim McGrath confirmed.
His death comes just eight months after his beloved wife Barbara died on April 17. The pair met as teenagers, and their “storybook” marriage lasted 73 years. Even after her death, the lifelong Republican remained devoted to his bride, sitting beside her casket for hours in his wheelchair as mourners paid their respects while she lay in repose one day before her invitation-only funeral.
But the weight of her passing clearly took a toll on Bush, who was admitted to the intensive care unit of Houston Methodist Hospital less than 24 hours after her death, after contracting an infection that spread to his blood.
He later recovered and traveled to the family’s beloved summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, in mid-May, but a week later was readmitted to the hospital for low blood pressure and fatigue.
The New England native leaves behind five living children: George W., Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Dorothy — 14 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. (Poppy, the second child of granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager, was named after her great-grandfather, who went by the nickname in his youth.) He is predeceased by daughter Robin, who died at three of leukemia in 1953, and is buried alongside her mother.
His grandchildren affectionately nicknamed him “Gampy,” and Bush Hager has said on Today that her beloved grandfather “really is one of the most humble, wonderful men [I know].”
Bush had several health scares in the years leading up to his death. He was rushed to Houston Methodist Hospital in January 2017 after experiencing “shortness of breath” related to pneumonia, and spent time in the ICU after a spokesman said he underwent a procedure to protect and clear his airway.
“Your prayers and good wishes helped more than you know,” he said in a statement at the time, “and as I head home my only concern is that I will not be able to thank each of you for your kind words.”
Bush also suffered from a form of Parkinson’s disease and used a motorized wheelchair to get around.
Bush’s longtime friend and former pastor Bonnie Steinroeder spoke to PEOPLE after his neck injury in July 2015, praising the former president’s resilience, kindness and strength of spirit. “He is unbelievable. He is a cat with nine lives,” she said at the time.
“He is so kind,” she added. “When my husband lost his job, the first call I got was from George Bush saying ‘we are so sorry,’ and ‘is there anything we can do to help you?’ ”
Though Bush cared deeply for others, Steinroeder added that “my impression of him, as a pastor and friend, is that he never spent a lot of time lamenting or worrying.”
Born to Power and Wealth
The son of U.S. Senator Prescott Bush from Connecticut, Bush was born into power and wealth, but went straight from Andover to the front lines of World War II, where he flew 58 combat missions in the Pacific theater in a torpedo bomber as the U.S. Navy’s youngest pilot.
He survived being shot down and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. Upon his return, he married his high-school sweetheart, Barbara Pierce. “They were so happy together and so committed to each other,” Steinroeder told PEOPLE of the couple. “They were always so kind to one another. They’ve been role models in a lot of ways.”
Following his graduation from Yale and a successful business career in oil that earned him millions, Bush entered politics in Texas, ascending from congressman to President Richard Nixon’s ambassador to the United Nations. Under then-President Gerald Ford he served as the U.S. envoy to China and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
In 1980, he ran a strong race in the Republican primary as the moderate alternative to California Gov. Ronald Reagan. The Gipper defeated Bush for the nomination and went on to defeat incumbent President Jimmy Carter by a landslide, but made his erstwhile Republican rival his vice president.
An Easy Victory
Casting himself as the inheritor of Reagan’s mantle in the 1988 presidential race, Bush coasted to an easy victory against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
Bush, however, was destined to be a one-term president.
At first he enjoyed soaring popularity by taking a hands-off approach to the collapse of the Soviet Union and to coordinating the successful Persian Gulf War. But a lackluster economy and his decision to renege on a pledge to conservatives not to raise taxes eroded Bush’s support, and he faced re-election challenges from both left and right. He lost the 1992 presidential election to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.
Clinton, who served two terms, went on to be succeeded by his predecessor’s eldest son, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, in what some at the time thought might be the beginning of a Bush presidential dynasty. The Bushes remain only the second father-son presidents in U.S. history, after John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Son Jeb Bush also ran for president in 2016, but dropped out during the Republican primaries.
After leaving the White House, Bush largely avoided the spotlight — except for the occasional birthday skydiving jump and a public appeal for Hurricane Katrina aid alongside rival-turned-friend Clinton. He voiced overall support for the administration of his son, but rarely commented on particular governmental policies or politics in general.
Steinroeder told PEOPLE the former president was politically blind when it came to friendship.
“His friendship with [Democrat] Bill Clinton is real,” she said. “Even his opponents get along with him! He’s a gentleman through and through.”
According to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the eldest child of Ethel Kennedy and the late Robert F. Kennedy, Bush told her he planned to go against his party and vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. He and Barbara initially planned to attend the inauguration of Donald Trump, but backed out following his hospitalization.
Despite his advancing years, Bush was renowned for remaining physically active in retirement. He famously celebrated his 90th birthday on June 12, 2014, by making a tandem parachute jump out of a helicopter near his summer home in Maine.
When it was reported that he’d developed a condition that caused tremors and weakness in his legs, he replied that it was causing him no pain — once again demonstrating the gentlemanly grace that was always his style.
In October 2015, three months after he suffered a neck injury at Kennebunkport, the former president threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Astros-Royals baseball game. Bush, a longtime baseball fan who was a first baseman and captain on his 1948 team at Yale University, was wearing a neck brace and an Astros jersey while sitting in his wheelchair to throw the pitch.
Bush was also open about his Christian faith, and said after Barbara died that he was sure she was moving on to a better place.
“I always knew Barbara was the most beloved woman in the world, and in fact I used to tease her that I had a complex about that fact,” he said in his first public statement after her death.
“But the truth is the outpouring of love and friendship being directed at The Enforcer is lifting us all up,” he continued. “We have faith she is heaven, and we know life will go on — as she would have it. So cross the Bushes off your worry list.”
This article originally appeared on People.com