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Timeline looks back at George H.W. Bush — veteran, leader, family man

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George H.W. Bush timeline

President George H.W. Bush as he addresses the Air War College troops at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday, April 13, 1991. 

Former President George H.W. Bush led a life of grace and diplomacy, from the battlefield to the oil fields, from Texas to New York to China to the White House. Forty-five years after the young fighter pilot was shot down in World War II, he would be the leader of the free world and play a significant role in ending the Cold War.

The residents of Bryan and College Station, along with the Texas A&M community, have benefited from Bush’s deep connections to the university through the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and the Bush School of Government and Public Service.

Here is a look back at Bush’s life. Primary sources for this timeline include George H.W. Bush’s Looking Forward and All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings; Jon Meacham’s Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush; George W. Bush’s 41: A Portrait of My Father; and The Eagle’s A Shining Purpose: George H.W. Bush’s Legacy of Service.

George H.W. Bush as a child

George Herbert Walker Bush as a child.  

June 12, 1924: George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts. Bush’s parents, Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush, were married in 1921. He was a banker and would serve as a Republican senator from Connecticut from 1952 to 1963. They would have five children.

Fall 1937: Bush entered Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, at age 13.

Dec. 6, 1941: The bombing of Pearl Harbor had a great effect on Bush. “My God,” he recalled thinking in Jon Meacham’s Destiny and Power. “This changes everything. ... After Pearl Harbor, it was a different world altogether. It was a red, white, and blue thing. Your country’s attacked, you’d better get in there and try to help.”

Christmas 1941: Bush attended a Christmas dance at the Greenwich Country Club and met Barbara Pierce. Former President George W. Bush wrote about their first moments in 41: A Portrait of My Father: “He wanted to ask her to dance, but there was a problem: He couldn’t waltz. So they sat out the dance and just talked. ... They hit it off and agreed to meet the following day at a Christmas party at the Apawamis Club in Rye. That night, the band did not play a waltz, and George H.W. Bush got Barbara onto the dance floor. There was instant affection, and they agreed to stay in touch.”

June 12, 1942: On his 18th birthday, Bush graduated from the Phillips Academy and enlisted in the Navy. He began flight training in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, then in Minneapolis, and then was sent to the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi.

George Herbert Walker Bush, US Navy, August 1942

George Herbert Walker Bush, US Navy, August 1942-September 1945. 

June 9, 1943: Bush became an officer of the U.S. Naval Reserve.

Dec. 12, 1943: Bush and Barbara were engaged, and the announcement was published. In Bush’s collection All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings, he includes a letter to Barbara that same day, which included: “I love you, precious, with all my heart and to know that you love me means my life. How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours some day. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you.”

May 21, 1944: Bush’s first combat mission was Wake Island, a Japanese occupation.

Sept. 2, 1944: Bush’s mission was to destroy a radio tower on the Japanese outpost on the island Chichi-Jima. He was joined on board by Lt. j.g. William G. “Ted” White and John “Del” Delaney. Their plane was hit as Bush approached the target, yet he was able to drop his bombs and damage the tower. Amid the smoke and confusion, Bush urged White and Delaney to put on their parachutes and bail out, and he later said he felt certain they did. Bush ejected and hit his head on the tail of the plane. After he entered the water, he was able to reach an uninflated life raft. The USS Finback submarine came to his rescue. White and Delaney were not found. “Last nite (sic) I rolled and tossed,” Bush wrote to his parents. “I kept reliving the whole experience. My heart aches for the families of those two boys with me.”

Bush wedding day 45

George and Barbara Bush on their Wedding Day, January 6, 1945.

Jan. 6, 1945: Bush and Barbara were married at the First Presbyterian Church in Rye, New York.

Sept. 1, 1945: President Harry Truman announced Japan’s surrender. Bush was honorably discharged from active duty on Sept. 18. He had flown 58 missions in 1,228 hours of flying time.

Fall 1945: Bush enrolled at Yale. He would finish his degree — economics major, sociology minor — in two and a half years, with Phi Beta Kappa designation.

1946: Bush played first base for the baseball team for three seasons. As captain of the team, he had an on-field moment in 1948 with legendary Yankees slugger Babe Ruth, who was giving the manuscript of his memoir to the university. Yale made it to the College World Series in 1947 (losing to California) and 1948 (falling to Southern California). Bush had a .976 fielding percentage in 1947, and .992 in 1948, according to the Yale website.

July 6, 1946: The Bushes’ first child, George Walker Bush, was born.

Summer 1948: After graduating from Yale, Bush moved the family to Texas to begin working in the oil business for Ideco (International Derrick and Equipment Co.) in Odessa. The Bushes spent a year in California in 1949, then returned to Texas to live in Midland.

Dec. 20, 1949: The Bushes’ second child was born, Pauline Robinson Bush, who would be known as Robin.

Spring 1951: Bush went the independent route, teaming up with John Overbey to create the Bush-Overbey Oil Development Co. Inc.

1952: Bush volunteered in Midland for the Republican presidential nominee, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was elected on Nov. 4. That same day, Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was elected to the Senate. He would be re-elected in 1956.

Feb. 11, 1953: The Bushes’ third child, John Ellis Bush — known as Jeb — was born.

George H.W. Bush with daughter Robin

HS212 George Bush holds his daughter, Robin, 1953. Photo Credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Spring 1953: Robin, age 3, was diagnosed with leukemia. Bush enlisted medical treatment from his uncle, Dr. John Walker, in New York. Robin died on Oct. 11 and was buried in a family plot in Greenwich, Connecticut.

1953: Bush-Overbey teamed up with Hugh and Bill Liedtke to create Zapata Petroleum Corp. In 1954, Bush led the offshoot Zapata Off-Shore.

Jan. 22, 1955: The Bushes’ fourth child, Neil Mallon Bush, was born.

Oct. 22, 1956: The Bushes’ fifth child, Marvin Pierce Bush, was born.

August 1959: The Bushes moved to Houston after Zapata Off-Shore became a separate company.

Aug. 18, 1959: The Bushes’ sixth child, Dorothy Walker Bush, was born.

1962: Bush made his move into politics, and was elected Harris County Republican Party chairman.

1963: Bush announced a U.S. Senate run, facing the Democratic incumbent, Ralph Yarborough. He would lose on Nov. 3, 1964, 56 to 44 percent.

1966: Bush ran for Texas’ Seventh Congressional District, against Democrat Frank Briscoe. He won on Nov. 8 with 57 percent of the vote.

April 11, 1968: President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination in housing opportunities. Bush supported the act, which was not a popular move among his constituents.

1970: Bush ran for the Senate, facing Democratic candidate Lloyd Bentsen. Bentsen would go on to defeat Bush in November, 53 to 47 percent.

George Bush with President Nixon

George Bush, US Ambassador to the UN, meets with President Nixon in the Oval Office, unknown date.

Dec. 9, 1970: Bush accepted the ambassador to the United Nations job from President Richard Nixon.

Oct. 8, 1972: Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, died at age 77. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer earlier in the year.

Jan. 23, 1973: Bush became chairman of the Republican National Committee at Nixon’s request. The Watergate scandal would dominate the news, throwing the Republican Party and Washington, D.C., into chaos.

Aug. 7, 1974: Bush wrote a letter to Nixon, recommending that he resign as president. The letter is included in All the Best: “... I now firmly feel resignation is best for this country, best for this President,” he wrote. “I believe this view is held by most Republican leaders across the country.” Nixon resigned on Aug. 9.

Fall 1974: Bush accepted the envoy to China job under President Gerald Ford. Bush took to a primary method of transportation in Beijing: riding a bicycle.

Nov. 1, 1975: Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sent a telegram to Bush, saying President Ford wanted him to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Bush accepted, and was confirmed in the Senate on Jan. 30, 1976. Among the issues Bush navigated in his post were the assassination of Francis E. Meloy Jr., American ambassador to Lebanon, and ongoing tensions with the Soviet Union.

Nov. 2, 1976: Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter was elected. As Meacham wrote in Destiny and Power, Bush called Carter to congratulate him, and to resign his post as CIA director.

January 1977: The Bushes moved back to Houston. Bush served as chairman of the executive committee of First International Bank.

May 1, 1979: Bush made his presidential aspirations official in an address at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan was a primary contender for the Republicans.

May 1, 1980: Bush made a campaign stop at Texas A&M, attracting a crowd to hear about his economic and foreign policy plans. The campaign had its successes, including defeating Reagan in the Iowa caucuses and taking Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Reagan took the New Hampshire primary, along with South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Illinois. In late May, Bush dropped out of the race.

July 17, 1980: Reagan — after considering former President Gerald Ford for his vice president pick — announced Bush as his running mate on the final day of the Republican National Convention in Detroit.

Nov. 4, 1980: Reagan and Bush easily defeated Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. The electoral college vote: 489 for Reagan, 49 for Carter.

Jan. 20, 1981: Inauguration Day for President Reagan and Vice President Bush. Meacham described Bush’s exuberance in Destiny and Power: “During the parade that afternoon, an ecstatic Bush waved to the crowds with such energy that some observers thought he might fall out of the limousine.”

March 30, 1981: Bush was traveling in Texas for a speech before the state Legislature when word arrived that President Reagan had been shot outside the Hilton hotel in Washington. John Hinckley Jr. shot Reagan, press secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty. Aboard Air Force Two, Bush traveled back to Washington. After surgery, Reagan’s prognosis was good. He returned to the White House on April 11.

May 5, 1984: Bush spoke at Texas A&M’s spring commencement ceremony at G. Rollie White Coliseum. He returned to campus on Sept. 4 to speak at the MSC Political Forum at Rudder Tower.

1984: Reagan and Bush ran for re-election. The Democratic nominee, Walter Mondale, enlisted Geraldine Ferraro as his vice president candidate — the first woman to be on a presidential ticket. On Election Day, Nov. 6, Mondale won Minnesota, his home state, and the District of Columbia. Reagan won the 49 other states.

1986: The Iran-Contra controversy — which involved selling arms to Iran in return for the release of American hostages, and sending money to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua — was the dominant story in Reagan’s second term. Bush acknowledged knowing about selling arms to Iran, but not about the funds being sent to the Contras. Both Reagan and Bush were criticized for the controversy.

Nov. 3, 1986: Bush returned to the A&M campus to speak at the MSC Political Forum.

Oct. 12, 1987: Bush announced his presidential run. He would compete with a Republican field including Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, Alexander Haig, Pete DuPont and Pat Robertson.

Feb. 8, 1988: Bush finished third in the Iowa caucuses, behind Dole and Robertson but took New Hampshire. Bush then dominated the Southern primaries. Dole dropped out in March.

May 1988: An ABC News-Washington Post poll had Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, leading Bush 53 to 40 percent.

Aug. 17, 1988: Bush announced Dan Quayle, a 41-year-old senator from Indiana, as his running mate during the Republican National Convention in New Orleans. The following day, Bush’s nomination acceptance speech included his concept of “a thousand points of light.” It also included his “Read my lips: no new taxes” promise. Bush led the polls after the convention.

Nov. 8, 1988: Bush won the presidency, taking 40 states, 426 electoral votes (versus Dukakis’ 111) and 53.4 percent of the popular vote. He was the first sitting vice president to be elected since Martin Van Buren in 1836.

Nov. 30, 1988: The initial seeds for Texas A&M landing Bush’s presidential library were planted prior to the inauguration by A&M graduate Michel Halbouty. According to The Eagle’s book A Shining Purpose: “Bush says it is too early to think of such matters.”

Jan. 20, 1989: President George H.W. Bush’s inauguration speech included a tribute to Reagan, along with messages of hope and a prayer. “I come before you and assume the presidency at a moment rich with promise,” he said. “We live in a peaceful, prosperous time, but we can make it better. ... For a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn.”

May 12, 1989: An A&M steering committee created a plan for the potential Bush library and made a brief presentation for him. In June, Michel Halbouty gave Bush a memo that detailed why the library should be on the A&M campus, including how A&M students overwhelmingly voted for Bush. The students at the other contenders (Rice, the University of Houston) largely voted for Dukakis.

1989: The economy emerged as a major issue during Bush’s presidency. He faced opposition from the Democrat-controlled House and Senate on deficit reductions through spending cuts. Bush, who famously said “Read my lips: no new taxes” in his convention speech, would eventually raise taxes in a 1990 budget agreement.

1989: The U.S. relationship with Russia was the other primary issue during Bush’s term, just as it had been for Reagan. Bush reached out to Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev to propose a meeting. Gorbachev was the key figure in making reforms in the Soviet Union in the Cold War’s final years.

Nov. 9, 1989: The Berlin Wall fell. East Germany, tied to the Soviet Union, allowed its citizens to enter West Germany.

Dec. 2, 1989: Bush met with Gorbachev in Malta. The two appeared in a joint press conference the following day. The two men met again in May 1990, in Washington, D.C., where they discussed the reunification of Germany.

Jan. 18, 1990: A&M officials made the formal presidential library presentation for President and Mrs. Bush at the White House. According to A Shining Purpose, “Both have many questions and show appreciation, although Rice and Houston are still in contention.”

Nov. 15, 1990: With bipartisan support, Bush signed the Clean Air Act Amendments, which addressed issues with air quality and acid rain.

July 26, 1990: Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into law, which prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities.

Aug. 2, 1990: Iraq, led by dictator Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait. Bush denounced the move in a press conference that day, and declared “This will not stand” on Aug. 5. Operation Desert Shield began on Aug. 7, with American troops entering Saudi Arabia, who would be joined by an international coalition. Bush sought and received authorization for the use of force from Congress. The United Nations set a Jan. 15, 1991, deadline for Hussein to exit Kuwait. The deadline passed. Military action, known as Operation Desert Storm, began with air strikes on Jan. 16. The ground war began Feb. 23. The American-led forces easily defeated the Iraqi opposition in 100 hours.

May 3, 1991: Bush called William A. McKenzie, chairman of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, to confirm that his presidential library would be located on the A&M campus.

Dec. 25, 1991: Gorbachev announced his resignation as president of the Soviet Union and the union was dissolved, making its republics independent. Gorbachev said: “We’re now living in a new world. An end has been put to the Cold War and to the arms race, as well as to the mad militarization of the country, which has crippled our economy, public attitudes and morals. The threat of nuclear war has been removed.”

1992: Bush would face Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the Democratic nominee in the presidential election. Dallas billionaire Ross Perot also joined the race as an independent, leading the polls in June, then dropping out in July. He re-entered the race in October. Clinton, with running mate Al Gore, led Bush-Quayle in the polls after the Democratic National Convention in New York.

Aug. 24, 1992: The Republican National Convention was held at the Astrodome. Bush said during his speech, “My opponents say I spend too much time on foreign policy, as if it didn’t matter that schoolchildren once hid under their desks in drills to prepare for nuclear war. I saw the chance to rid our children’s dreams of the nuclear nightmare, and I did.”

Nov. 3, 1992: Bush lost to Clinton, 43 to 37 percent, 370 electoral votes to 168. Perot earned 19 percent, and no electoral votes. In Bush’s diary entry at 12:15 a.m. on Nov. 4, reprinted in All the Best, he said “Now into bed, prepared to face tomorrow: Be strong, be kind, be generous of spirit, be understanding and let people know how grateful you are. Don’t get even. Comfort the ones I’ve hurt and let down. Say your prayers and ask for God’s understanding and strength. Finish with a smile and some gusto, and do what’s right and finish strong.”

Nov. 19, 1992: Bush’s mother, Dorothy W. Bush, died at 91. Bush was able to spend time with her earlier that day. In Bush’s diary entry, he said, “Tonight she is at rest in God’s loving arms and with Dad.”

Dec. 15, 1992: Bush gives his last commencement speech as president on the A&M campus, which covered the reunification of Germany and the Cold War.

Dec. 17, 1992: Bush led the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which would eliminate most tariffs among the three countries.

Nov. 8, 1994: George W. Bush defeated incumbent Ann Richards in the Texas governor race.

Nov. 30, 1994: The Bushes broke ground on the presidential library and the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M.

George H W Bush 07

Former President George H.W. Bush makes his entrance to his presidential museum during a re-dedication ceremony with Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott with the Golden Knights parachute team in College Station, Texas, on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007. It was the former president's sixth skydive and his first since 2004, when he jumped to celebrate his 80th birthday.

March 25, 1997: Bush made a parachute jump — his first since his plane was shot down during World War II — with the U.S. Army Golden Knights in Arizona. He would also jump with the Golden Knights at the Bush Library and in Kennebunkport, Maine, to celebrate his 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays.

Sept. 10, 1997: The Bush School of Government and Public Service was dedicated. The initial class of 19 students would learn about executive leadership, and “how economic and social forces shape and are shaped by government,” according to A Shining Purpose.

George and Barbara Bush Photo Gallery 97

In this Nov. 6, 1997 photo, former President George H.W. Bush hugs his wife, Barbara, after speaking at the dedication of the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.

Nov. 6, 1997: The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was dedicated at Texas A&M, attracting a crowd of nearly 20,000. President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton were in attendance, as were former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Former first lady Nancy Reagan participated, but former President Ronald Reagan was not able to attend for health reasons. Other former first ladies in attendance were Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter. Bush’s speech included: “Now that my political days are over, I can honestly say that the three most rewarding titles bestowed upon me are the three that I’ve got left — a husband, a father, and a granddad. ... I don’t know if Lou Gehrig, my great idol, said it first, but I do know that he said it best — today I feel like the luckiest person in the world.”

Nov. 3, 1998: George W. Bush was re-elected as Texas governor, the same day Jeb Bush was elected as Florida governor. Jeb would be re-elected in 2002.

June 12, 1999: Gov. George W. Bush announced he was running for president. Bush would win the nomination and announce Dick Cheney — who served as secretary of defense in his father’s administration — as his running mate on July 25, 2000. He would face Vice President Al Gore for the presidency.

Nov. 18, 1999: The Bonfire collapse on the Texas A&M campus killed 11 students and one former student, and injured 27. The Bushes were among the 40,000 who gathered at a Nov. 25 candlelight vigil to honor the students, along with Gov. Bush and wife, Laura.

May 2000: The Bushes reinterred daughter Robin, who had been buried in Greenwich, Connecticut, to an area behind the Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Nov. 7, 2000: Election Day led to presidential confusion thanks to recounts and “hanging chads” in Florida. George W. Bush would eventually secure the win on Dec. 13 after Gore conceded.

2001: Bush served as chairman of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors from 2001 to 2003. A 2017 exhibit at the Bush Library acknowledged the Bushes’ longtime connection to MD Anderson.

President Bush and President Gorbachev attend a A&M Consolidated baseball game

President Bush and President Gorbachev attend a A&M Consolidated baseball game while Gorbachev is visiting to receive the Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service in April 2001.

April 2001: Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev came to A&M to receive the George H.W. Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service. Bush and Gorbachev visited a high school baseball game — A&M Consolidated was playing Cy-Fair — and the two former presidents threw out the ceremonial first pitches.

Sept. 11, 2001: The Bushes were traveling to Minnesota when word arrived of the terrorist attacks in New York. They were diverted to Milwaukee and then to a motel. They spoke to President George W. Bush by phone.

June 5, 2004: Former President Ronald Reagan died. Bush delivered the eulogy at his funeral.

Nov. 2, 2004: President George W. Bush was re-elected, defeating Democrat John Kerry.

December 2004: President George W. Bush asked his father and former President Bill Clinton to raise money for victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. The two would team up again to raise money for relief after hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.

2006-2007: Bush started to experience problems with his balance. Dr. John Eckstein, who treated Bush over the years, said in Meacham’s Destiny and Power that it slowly progressed, and “proved to be a Parkinson’s like disorder involving mainly his legs.”

Dec. 13, 2008: George W. Bush gave a commencement speech at A&M, his last as president, and was joined by his parents onstage.

Jan. 10, 2009: Former President George W. Bush commissioned the USS George H.W. Bush CVN-77, a Navy aircraft carrier.

Oct. 16, 2009: President Barack Obama came to the A&M campus to recognize Bush’s Points of Light Institute. Obama credited Bush’s passion for volunteerism, saying his “life of service is an inspiration to all of us.”

Feb. 15, 2011: President Obama gave Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

April 4, 2014: As part of the 25th anniversary of Bush’s presidency, a statue of him was unveiled at the Bush Library.

Nov. 11, 2014: Former President George W. Bush came to A&M to discuss his book 41: A Portrait of My Father.

Bush throws first pitch at Yale game

Former President George H. W. Bush throws out the opening pitch to Texas A&M player Stephen Kolek, Saturday, March 5, 2016, at Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park, in College Station, Texas.

March 5, 2016: Yale, Bush’s alma mater, came to Texas A&M for a weekend baseball series. Bush threw out the first pitch, wearing a Yale jersey and an A&M hat.

Dec. 7, 2016: The 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor was commemorated at the Bush Library. World War II veterans Bush and former Sen. Bob Dole sat together.

One America Appeal

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama come together for a common cause on Saturday at the “Deep From the Heart: The One America Appeal” hurricane relief benefit concert.

Oct. 21, 2017: Bush teamed up with former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter in September to create the One America Appeal nonprofit to raise money for hurricane relief. As part of the 20th anniversary of the Bush Library at A&M, a major fundraising concert was held in October at Reed Arena. The former presidents were in attendance, and a parade of music stars performed. Organizers announced the One America Appeal had raised $31 million for hurricane relief. By January 2018, that amount had risen to $42 million.

April 17, 2018: Barbara Bush died at age 92. The Bushes had been married for 73 years, the most by any presidential couple. The funeral was held in Houston; guests included former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, and first lady Melania Trump. Barbara Bush was buried on the Bush Library grounds, next to daughter Robin, on April 21.

Nov. 30, 2018: Former President Bush died at his Houston home at age 94.

Dec. 1, 2018: Texas A&M University announced that Bush would be laid to rest Dec. 6 on the grounds of his presidential library after lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., and a funeral service at Washington National Cathedral.

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