Parachuting for his 90th birthday… and seven other things you didn’t know about George HW Bush – Independent.ie

Then-president-elect George HW Bush casts a line while fishing in Gulf Stream, Florida (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
Then-president-elect George HW Bush casts a line while fishing in Gulf Stream, Florida (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

George HW Bush was largely known for his work in public office, from his time as a Texas congressman and CIA director to his years in the White House as president and Ronald Reagan’s vice president.

But the World War II hero and great-grandfather was also an avid skydiver, played in the first-ever College World Series and was the longest-married president in US history.

Here is a closer look at those and other elements of his life:

1. Nicknames

George HW Bush was known to his family as “Poppy”. His wife said her husband was named after his maternal grandfather, who was known as “Pops”, so the younger Bush was called “Little Pops”.

The nickname evolved into Poppy, which Bush “hated as he got older, but it was hard to break such a long-standing habit,” Barbara Bush wrote in her memoir.

But his grandchildren knew him as “Gampy”, a name he embraced.

2. Meeting his wife

Mr Bush met his wife at a dance in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1941. He was a 17-year-old high school senior, while she was 16 and attending school in Charleston, South Carolina, and home for Christmas.

The band was playing Glenn Miller tunes, but when he asked her to dance, the music changed to a waltz.

He did not know how to waltz, so they talked.

They were married on January 6 1945, and were the longest-married presidential couple. She died on April 17, 2018.

3. The sea

Mr Bush’s lifelong love of the sea and boats began in Maine, with his grandfather teaching him how to handle and dock a boat.

At age nine, he and his 11-year-old brother were first allowed to take out their grandfather’s lobster boat by themselves.

Mr Bush wrote in a 1987 book that he loved “the physical sensation of steering a powerful machine, throttle open”. In 2010, to enjoy at his home in Maine, he bought a 38-foot fishing boat, Fidelity V, equipped with three 300-horsepower engines and capable of reaching 75mph.

4. The air

During the Second World War, Mr Bush was one of the Navy’s youngest pilots when he was shot down during a 1944 bombing mission.

He parachuted into the Pacific Ocean and was rescued by an American submarine.

In 1997 he fulfilled a wartime promise to himself to skydive one day just for fun, when at age 73 and over his family’s objections, he bailed out over a military base in Arizona, “to show that old guys can still do stuff,” he said. He later marked his 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays with parachute jumps.

5. Baseball

As a first baseman and captain of his baseball team at Yale University, Mr Bush played in the first-ever College World Series in 1947.

His team lost to the University of California. Yale again reached the College World Series finals in 1948 and this time lost to Southern California.

Sparky Anderson, who would win the World Series as manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, was a batboy on the Southern California team.

6. Gulf War

The signature event of Mr Bush’s presidency was the 1991 Gulf War. But when he ordered US troops to Kuwait, he acknowledged, he was prepared for the worst.

“We feared it would go badly,” he said in 2011, on the 20th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm.

“But it went far more clean … far more quickly, far less loss of our lives and Iraqi lives, than we worried about. It was very rewarding.”

7. Letter to the editor

Mr Bush said he wrote one letter-to-the-editor as president, and it went to The New York Times regarding a story about him being out of touch because he did not know about grocery store price-scanning devices.

“I was – I thought – smeared by an ugly story,” he said in a 1999 C-SPAN interview.

Mr Bush said his remark describing the device as “amazing” came at a convention showing off the new technology and was portrayed by “some lazy little reporter … (who) wasn’t even there… And the damn story lived on.”

8. Final resting place

After suffering an irregular heartbeat in 2000, he told reporters as he was released from a Florida hospital that mortality was something he thought about “but not with fear. If you’ve got faith, you don’t think of it with fear”.

His burial site, behind his presidential museum in College Station, Texas, is near a pond and across a footbridge over a creek where three large post oaks form a semicircle.

“The loveliest resting spot I have ever seen,” Barbara Bush once described it. Their daughter, Robin, who died of leukaemia at the age of three in 1953, was moved to the site in 2000, and Mrs Bush was buried there in April.

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