WASHINGTON — The nation bid goodbye to George H.W. Bush with high praise, cannon salutes and gentle humor Wednesday, celebrating the life of the Texan who embraced a lifetime of service in Washington and was the last president to fight for the U.S. in wartime. Three former presidents looked on at Washington National Cathedral as a fourth — George W. Bush — eulogized his dad as "the brightest of a thousand points of light."
After three days of remembrance in the capital city, the Air Force plane with Bush's casket left for a final service in Houston and burial today at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place is alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter who died of leukemia at age 3.
His plane, which often serves as Air Force One, arrived at Ellington Field outside Houston in late afternoon. As a motorcade subsequently carried Bush's remains to the family church, St. Martin's Episcopal, along a closed interstate, hundreds of people in stopped cars on the other side of the road, took pictures and shot cell phone video. One driver of a tanker truck climbed atop the hulking vehicle for a better view, and at least 15 firefighters scaled a pair of stopped firetrucks to salute.
Upon its arrival at the church, Bush's casket was met by a military band and Houston Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner.
The national funeral service at the cathedral was a tribute to a president, a patriarch and a faded political era that prized military service and public responsibility. It was laced with indirect comparisons to President Donald Trump but was not consumed by them, as speakers focused on Bush's public life and character.
"He was a man of such great humility," said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming. Those who travel "the high road of humility in Washington, D.C.," he added pointedly, "are not bothered by heavy traffic."
Trump sat with his wife, a trio of ex-presidents and their wives, several of the group sharp critics of his presidency and one of them, Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic foe. Apart from courteous nods and some handshakes, there was little interaction between Trump and the others.
George W. Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost in 1953 and his mother, who died in April. He said he took comfort in knowing "Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom's hand again."
The family occupied the White House for a dozen years — the 41st president defeated after one term, the 43rd serving two. Jeb Bush stepped up to try to extend that run but fell short when Trump won the 2016 Republican primaries.
The elder Bush was "the last great-soldier statesman," historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, "our shield" in dangerous times.
But he took a lighter tone, too, noting that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply quipped, "Never know. Gotta ask."
The congregation at the cathedral, filled with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office and others touched by Bush's life, rose for the arrival of the casket, accompanied by clergy of faiths from around the world. In their row together, Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton stood with their spouses and all placed their hands over their hearts.
Simpson regaled the congregation with stories from his years as Bush's friend in Washington. More seriously, he recalled that when he went through a rough patch in the political game, Bush conspicuously stood by him against the advice of aides. "You would have wanted him on your side," he said.
Meacham praised Bush's call to volunteerism, placing his "1,000 points of light" alongside Abraham Lincoln's call to honor "the better angels of our nature" in the American rhetorical canon. Meacham called those lines "companion verses in America's national hymn."
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney praised Bush as a strong world leader who helped oversee the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and helped bring about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, signed into law by his successor, Clinton.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that the day marked "a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life."
Bush's death makes Carter, also 94 but more than 100 days younger, the oldest living ex-president.
Following the cathedral service, the hearse and its long motorcade drove to the National Mall to pass by the World War II Memorial, a nod to the late president's service as a World War II Navy pilot, then transferred his remains at Joint Base Andrews for the flight home to Texas with members of his family.
Bush is set to lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church before boarding a special funeral train to be carried to his burial today.
Trump ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.
FORT EDWARD — As the Fort Edward school district faces a declining tax base and fiscal challenges, school officials announced Wednesday that it has agreed to conduct a pre-merger study to examine the benefits and drawbacks of dissolving and being annexed into the South Glens Falls Central School District.
Fort Edward Superintendent of Schools Daniel Ward said the preferred option would be for the Fort Edward Union Free School District to continue its present configuration, but school officials have to consider all possibilities.
“It’s a great school. We have great staff that do fantastic things for kids every day, day in and day out, and we have a really supportive community. I’m sure it will cause concern for some people, but again, we’re just looking at this study of a hypothetical annexation to get as much information as we can to do long-range planning,” he said.
The district lost a significant amount of its tax base when the dewatering plant closed after the completion of General Electric’s Hudson River dredging project. The assessment for the old dewatering plant property, which is owned by WCC LLC, was reduced by more than $60 million, according to Ward. That results in a $1.2 million loss in revenue for the school district.
WCC is looking to settle its tax assessment case, but the lowered assessment is going to result in a big financial hit to the district.
Ward said that as the district was having its discussions about merger partners, South Glens Falls came up because it is one of two districts contiguous to Fort Edward. Hudson Falls is the other.
Ward said South Glens Falls school officials have been very receptive to exploring this process.
“Certainly there’s financial considerations, but the conversation always starts with what’s good for our students?” he said.
Castallo & Silky will conduct the pre-merger study, which will address enrollment projections, instructional and extracurricular programming, finance, facilities, transportation, staffing, expected tax rates and state aid, according to a news release.
The study, which costs $5,500 for each school district, will be conducted throughout the winter. Results are expected to be released to the public in June. Each district will receive aid to offset the cost of the study. Fort Edward will receive 71 percent aid, while South Glens Falls will receive 62 percent aid.
Ward said the district has tried hard not to cut the instructional program in the midst of fiscal challenges. In last year’s budget, it reduced its school psychologist from full-time to part-time and cut a couple bus driver/cleaner positions in the last couple years. There are not too many areas from which to cut.
The district also has been holding off on hiring a permanent junior-senior high school principal after Thomas McGurl left in June 2017 to become superintendent of the Granville Central School District. Mark Doody filled the position for the 2017-18 school year, and Sam Ratti is serving as the interim principal this year.
Fort Edward, which has about 500 students, had initially sought out Hudson Falls as a partner. However, Hudson Falls did not want to contribute $5,000 toward the cost of a pre-merger study.
A study by the Capital Area School District Association found that a merger between Fort Edward and Hudson Falls would qualify the combined district for $44 million in special reorganization aid over the next 14 years and receive 95 percent state reimbursement for building projects.
That study also found that the tax rate for Fort Edward residents would drop by $5.39 per $1,000 of assessed value and increase by 84 cents for residents of the Hudson Falls school district.
Ward said Wednesday that this study with South Glens Falls does not take a potential partnership with Hudson Falls off the table.
“We just want to have all of our options out in the open,” he said.
South Glens Falls Superintendent of Schools Kristine Orr said Ward had reached out to Jon Hunter, who was then serving as interim superintendent, on a potential study.
Orr said that this is not as lengthy as a full merger study, but allows the districts to get a sense of whether this makes financial sense and could benefit students and taxpayers.
“We hope to get an initial draft of it back in about 3 to 4 months, depending on how quickly they get the information they are looking for, and we want to present it to our June board meeting if possible,” she said.
If both districts decide to go forward then a full-blown study would be required, and it would have to be approved by voters in both districts. Under an annexation, Fort Edward would dissolve and be absorbed into the 3,100-student South Glens Falls Central School District.
Orr said this is a slow process, and it is important to get all the information. She added that her district wants to do whatever it can to support Fort Edward in this process.
“We want to make sure they’re getting the best education possible,” she said.
Orr said it is too early to talk about job cuts or specific changes.
Both boards are set to vote formally on going forward with the pre-merger study at their respective meetings this month. Fort Edward will meet on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the superintendent’s conference room and South Glens Falls will meet on Dec. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Moreau Elementary School.
School mergers have been unsuccessful locally. Voters in 2013 rejected for the third time a proposal for the Abraham Wing School to be annexed into the Glens Falls City School district.
In 2000, a similar effort to merger Hudson Falls and Fort Ann was defeated by voters in both districts.
This past Tuesday, voters in the Westport and Elizabethtown-Lewis school districts agreed to merge.
WASHINGTON — The nation’s most exclusive fraternity — the presidents club — assembled Wednesday to mourn George H.W. Bush, putting on public display its uneasy relationship with the current occupant of the Oval Office. The uncomfortable reunion brought President Donald Trump together in the same pew with past White House residents who have given him decidedly critical reviews.
The late Bush was the de facto chair of the modern incarnation of the president’s club, transcending contentious campaigns and party lines to bring together fractious personalities who share that rarified experience. But the staid group of Oval Office occupants has been disturbed since Donald Trump’s election. And since his swearing-in, Trump has spurned most contact with his predecessors — and they have snubbed him in return.
The Bushes had made it known to the White House months ago that, despite differences in policy and temperament, the late president wanted Trump to attend the national service. The ceremony’s tributes at times stood as an unspoken counterpoint to Trump’s leadership, as historian Jon Meacham eulogized Bush by recounting his life’s credo: “Tell the truth, don’t blame people, be strong, do your best, try hard, forgive, stay the course.” George W. Bush added of his father: “He could tease and needle, but not out of malice.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s state funeral for the late president, former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and their spouses chatted easily among themselves from their seats in the front row at Washington’s National Cathedral. The ex-presidents leaned over their wives to chat with one another. Bill Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama shared a quiet conversation.
But the Trumps’ arrival, minutes ahead of the motorcade carrying Bush’s casket, cast a pall on the conversation. First lady Melania Trump approached first, greeting both Obamas and former President Clinton with a handshake. Hillary Clinton appeared to nod at Mrs. Trump but did not interact with Trump himself and stared straight ahead during the service. Jimmy Carter waved a hand. The president then shook hands with both Obamas before taking his seat.
After that, the small talk along the row largely stopped.
Next followed George W. Bush, who, by contrast, shook hands with the entire row of dignitaries — and appeared to share a moment of humor with Michelle Obama, slipping something into her hand. Bush took his seat across the aisle from the ex-presidents, with the rest of the Bush family.
The Trump-Obama handshake marked the first direct interaction between the current president and his immediate predecessor since Inauguration Day 2017. Trump has not spoken to Democrats Clinton or Obama since that day.
He did speak with the younger Bush during the contentious confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as the previous Republican president helped lobby for his former aide. Democrat Carter has been briefed by White House officials on North Korea, though it was not clear if he has engaged directly with Trump.
Trump has sought to meet the elder Bush’s passing with grace, a contrast to the rhythms of much of his tumultuous presidency. He came to office after a campaign in which he harshly criticized his Democratic predecessors and co-opted a Republican Party once dominated by the Bush family. Despite the traditional kinship among presidents, Trump’s predecessors have all made their discomfort known in different ways.
“It’s unusual that a cabal of ex-presidents from both parties dislike a sitting president and that’s what you’ve got happening right now,” said Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University.
By virtue of health, longevity and opportunities for continued influence, ex-presidents are sticking around longer than ever and staying active in the public eye.
Past presidents often built relationships with their predecessors, Brinkley said. “Bill Clinton would reach out to Richard Nixon for advice on Russia,” he said. “Harry Truman leaned heavily on Herbert Hoover. It’s endless.”
To be sure, Brinkley added, those ties vary from president to president and there have been chilly relationships as well, noting, for example, that “FDR would never talk to Herbert Hoover.”
The late Bush said he voted for Clinton in 2016 while George W. Bush said he voted for “none of the above.”
There have been other moments when the ex-presidents offered more sympathetic sentiments for Trump. After Trump’s surprise victory, Obama stood in the Rose Garden at the White House and said he was “rooting” for the next president. Carter told The New York Times in 2017 the media had been harder on Trump than other presidents. Clinton said in June that America should be rooting for Trump to succeed in his North Korea talks.
While he has struggled to set the right tone in past moments of national grief, Trump has gone out of his way to address Bush’s passing with consideration, issuing kind statements and ensuring that Bush family members have whatever they need for the funeral. On Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump welcomed Laura Bush and other family members for a tour of the White House Christmas decorations. And Trump and the first lady visited with members of the Bush family at Blair House.