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State Funeral Pays Tribute To George H.W. Bush, Statesman, Ex-President


Former President George H.W. Bush will be laid to rest later today at his presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M University. Yesterday he was honored in Washington, D.C. Every living president was there for the state funeral at the National Cathedral. There were four eulogies, one of them from former Republican senator from Wyoming, Alan Simpson. This is what he had to say about Bush.


ALAN SIMPSON: He never hated anyone. He knew what his mother and my mother always knew. Hatred corrodes the container it's carried in.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here to look back on some of the highlights from yesterday. Hi there, Tam.


GREENE: So just an amazing scene. I mean, you had President Trump and the first lady with all the other living presidents sitting there in the front row. I mean, what did you make of what we were seeing play out there in that cathedral?

KEITH: So this was the second major service in this cathedral, the second major memorial service in the last few months. Before, earlier this year, that cathedral also hosted the memorial service for Senator John McCain. And there was a very explicit contrast between these. McCain's family didn't want President Trump there, and President Trump wasn't there. And very much of McCain's service was sort of an anti-Trump service. This was different. Trump was invited. He sat in the front row.

There was some awkwardness upon his arrival where he didn't shake hands with all of the former presidents, and then George W. Bush comes in and he shakes hands with all of the former presidents and President Trump, as well. But there wasn't that sort of, like, explicit anti-Trump message of this service. It really was focused on Bush. Though, if you were listening for it, you could hear contrasts in the way people described George H.W. Bush. Here again is Alan Simpson.


SIMPSON: Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic.


KEITH: And we should say that Simpson was the comic relief. You know, a sign of a good funeral is if you can laugh a little bit.

GREENE: Well, and there were, though, also some light moments from George W. Bush. I mean, the former president's eldest son, of course, a president himself. But a lot of it was deeply personal and emotional at times. I mean, talk about these two men, these two Bushes who were president. How did they differ? How are they the same?

KEITH: You know, people were always looking for rivalry between the two of them. But what they always had was this very loving relationship, and a loving relationship where they could laugh at each other. Certainly, in that eulogy, George W. Bush made fun of his dad for not liking vegetables, and not being a very good public speaker and having a terrible short game in golf.

GREENE: (Laughter).

KEITH: But when it came to the end - and they play speed golf, which is a very weird thing. But...

GREENE: Yeah. It is.

KEITH: ...And a Bush thing. But when it came to the end, it was really not about a president talking about another president. It was a son talking about a father.


GEORGE W BUSH: So through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man. The best father a son or daughter could've had. And in our grief, I just smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding mom's hand again.

GREENE: Wow. So how do you think George H.W. Bush is going to be judged by history, Tam?

KEITH: Well, I'm not a historian, but one did speak at the funeral, Jon Meacham, who is a presidential historian and also a biographer of George H.W. Bush. And here's his line. He was an imperfect man. He left us a more perfect union.

And one other thing. NBC anchor Willie Geist said that Meacham actually read the eulogy to George H.W. Bush before he passed and that his response to it was, that's a lot about me, Jon.

GREENE: Very characteristic, it sounds like. NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.