WASHINGTON (AP) – The nation’s capital bid its final farewell to the late former United States (US)President, George HW Bush, in a service of prayer and praise that is drawing together world envoys, Americans of high office and a guy from Maine who used to fix things in Bush’s house on the water.
The ceremony yesterday at Washington National Cathedral, the nexus of state funerals, would cap three days of remembrance by dignitaries and ordinary citizens as they honoured the Republican president who oversaw the post-Cold War transition and led a successful Gulf War, only to lose re-election in a generational shift to Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.
The four living four US Presidents would come – among them, George W Bush will eulogise his father – and US President Donald Trump would attend but was not scheduled to speak. Also attending: one king (Jordan), one queen (Jordan), two princes (Britain, Bahrain), Germany’s Chancellor and Poland’s President, among representatives of more than a dozen countries.
Also expected in the invitation-only crowd: Mike Lovejoy, a Kennebunkport electrician and fix-it man who has worked at Bush’s Maine summer estate since 1990 and said he was shocked and heartened to be asked to come.
On Tuesday, soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the hushed Capitol Rotunda to view Bush’s casket and honour a president whose legacy included World War military service and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled. Former Senator Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and one-time rival.
After the national funeral service at the cathedral, Bush’s remains will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St Martin’s Episcopal Church before burial today at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station.
His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age three.
Trump ordered the federal government closed yesterday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.
As at notable moments in his life, Bush brought together Republicans and Democrats in his death, and not only the VIPs.
Members of the public who never voted for the man waited in the same long lines on Tuesday as the rest, attesting that Bush possessed the dignity and grace that deserved to be remembered by their presence on a cold overcast day in the capital.
“I’m just here to pay my respects,” said Jane Hernandez, a retired physician in the heavily Democratic city and suburbs. “I wasn’t the biggest fan of his presidency, but all in all he was a good, sincere guy doing a really hard job as best he could.”
Bush’s service dog, Sully, was brought to the viewing, too – his main service these last months since Barbara Bush’s death in April being to rest his head on her husband’s lap. Service dogs are trained to do that.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also honoured Bush, the only spy chief to become President, as three agency directors past and present joined the public in the viewing. In the midst of the period of mourning, US First Lady Melania Trump gave Laura Bush, one of her predecessors, a tour of holiday decorations at the White House, a “sweet visit during this sombre week,” as Mrs Bush’s Instagram account put it.
And the Trumps visited members of the Bush family at the Blair House presidential guesthouse, where they are staying. Former President George W Bush and his wife greeted the Trumps outside before everyone went in for the private, 20-minute visit.