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George H.W. Bush praised for leadership, everyman qualities at state funeral

George H.W. Bush was praised by family and colleagues Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral, the nexus of state funerals, capping three days of remembrance by dignitaries and ordinary citizens who honoured the Republican president that oversaw the post-Cold War transition and helped solidify trade across North America during his one term in office.

Bush’s flag-draped coffin left the U.S. Capitol for the short trip to the cathedral early Wednesday morning. Family, friends, congressional leaders and others gathered with military brass on the steps of the Capitol for the send-off as cannons echoed a salute and a military band played Hail to the Chief.

The 41st president had been lying in state since late Monday in the Capitol rotunda, an honour reserved for few. Hundreds of visitors, including many former White House officials, arrived to pay tribute. Bush died last week in Houston at age 94.

The four living ex-presidents attended the service, with son George W. Bush delivering the final eulogy.

To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.– George W. Bush

“We’re going to miss you — your decency, sincerity and kind soul will stay with us forever. 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 have,” said Bush, his voice cracking with emotion.

“To us,” the son said of the father, “his was the brightest of a thousand points of light” — a reference to Bush Sr.’s 1988 convention speech.

Bush praised his father’s optimistic nature and ability to empathize with others, and said he taught his children “that public service is noble and necessary.”

Jenna Bush Hager, the granddaughter of George H.W. Bush, touches his casket after delivering a Bible reading at Wednesday’s service. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

Donald Trump attended with his wife Melania but was not among the eulogists, marking the first time since Lyndon Johnson’s death in 1973 that a sitting president has not been tapped to eulogize a late president.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that he was “looking forward to being with the Bush family,” calling the day “a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life.” Trump and his wife took their seats after the others, briefly greeting the Obamas seated next to them.

Trump had earlier ordered the federal government closed for a national day of mourning.

Mulroney praises Bush’s courage, principles

Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney eulogized Bush, remembering his diplomacy during an era of the dissolution of the Soviet empire and the reunification of Germany.

“As historians review the accomplishments and context of all who have served as president, I believe it will be said in the life of this country, the United States … that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honourable than George Herbert Walker Bush,” said Mulroney.

Watch as Brian Mulroney remembers Bush’s ‘unlimited’ optimism

Former Canadian PM remembers Bush’s friendship, leadership during tumultuous times11:54

Mulroney’s time as prime minister encompassed George H.W. Bush’s entire term as president. The pair developed a collegial bond and tackled issues related to trade and the environment, while Bush thought so highly of Mulroney’s rapport with European and Russian leaders that he touted the Canadian for consideration as UN secretary general, though Mulroney opted to concentrate on domestic affairs.

Bush, Mulroney and Mexico’s Carlos Salinas de Gortari ratified the North America Free Trade Agreement at a ceremony in Texas in 1992. Mulroney hailed it Wednesday for creating “the largest and richest free trade area in the history of the world.”

Along with Mulroney, David MacNaughton, Canadian ambassador to the U.S., and Liberal MP Scott Brison attended the service.

Sense of duty

Historian Jon Meacham began the series of eulogies, recounting Bush’s harrowing time as a naval pilot during the Second World War.

Bush flew 58 missions over the Pacific Ocean, including one in which his plane was shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft fire. He was rescued by a passing U.S. submarine and later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action.

Meacham said Bush lived the rest of his life with that same sense of duty.

“There were always more missions to undertake, more lives to touch and more love to give, and what a headlong race he made of it all.”

Watch: Memorable moments from the national cathedral service

Moments from the funeral service for the 41st president of the United States1:42

Former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson praised Bush’s bipartisan spirit.

“But he often said when the really tough choices come, it’s the country, not me,” said Simpson. “It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s for our country that I have fought for.”

Each of the spoken tributes highlighted Bush’s sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself.

Meacham said Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply cracked, “Never know. Gotta ask.”

‘He was dedicated to her totally’

Bush’s body will next be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church before burial Thursday 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.

“He married his sweetheart,” said their son, George W. Bush. “He adored her. He laughed and cried with her. He was dedicated to her totally.

“In old age, dad enjoyed watching police show reruns, the volume on high, all the while holding Mom’s hand.”

Former president George W. Bush, second from right, stands with wife Laura Bush, brother Neil Bush and former sister-in-law Sharon Bush as the flag-draped casket of his father is carried by a joint services military honour guard from the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Bush is survived by four sons and a daughter, in addition to several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by Robin Bush, the daughter with leukemia who died in 1953 at age three.

“We only learned later that dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily,” said Bush in his eulogy. “Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.”

The service attracted a who’s who of modern U.S. political history.

Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.– George W. Bush

The five most recent vice-presidents were also there: current VP Mike Pence, along with Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Dan Quayle, who served as VP in George H.W. Bush’s administration.

Foreign leaders past and present seen included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, King Abdullah II of Jordan and John Major, former British prime minister.

The Trump administration was heavily represented, with Chief of Staff John Kelly, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as well as family members and advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

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