An emotional Brian Mulroney says he’s convinced George H. W. Bush will go down as the most courageous, principled and honourable occupant of the Oval Office the United States has ever known.
The former prime minister, a close personal friend and confidant, fought back tears at one point during his eulogy at Washington’s National Cathedral as he recalled personal memories of his time with the 41st president.
Mulroney described Bush as a true gentleman and a paragon of genuine leadership who ran the country the same way he lived his life: with distinction, resolve and bravery.
And he struggled with his emotions as he recounted Bush, a former fighter pilot, showing him a plaque mounted at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, inscribed with the letters CAVU: “ceiling and visibility unlimited,” a description of perfect flying conditions. Mulroney said that was how Bush felt about his life after the presidency.
Liberal cabinet minister Scott Brison and Ambassador David MacNaughton are also among an estimated 3,000 friends, dignitaries, presidents past and present and other political heavyweights gathered at the cathedral for a final farewell.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump sat directly in front of Mulroney as he spoke, alongside three of their living White House predecessors, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Bush’s son and eventual successor, George W. Bush, sat across the aisle with family.
Trump declared Wednesday a national day of mourning in the U.S., part of a week-long series of commemorations that began Monday with a solemn public visitation in the Capitol rotunda.
READ MORE: Presidents club assembles for Bush funeral
Prior to the start of the ceremony, the president used his preferred platform — Twitter — to send a message of remembrance, urging Americans to treat the occasion not as a funeral, but as a celebration of the former president’s life.
Flags on Canadian federal buildings in both countries are also flying at half-mast today in a cross-border tribute.
Bush will be buried Thursday at his presidential library in Texas, near his wife, Barbara, who died in April, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia at age 3.
In an interview Monday, Brison — noting that Bush’s signature is on the original 1992 version of NAFTA — recalled meeting the former president for the first time at a conference in Montreal marking the deal’s 10-year anniversary.
“I was struck then by his graciousness, his interest in and enthusiasm for Canada — but he was just an extraordinarily gracious person,” Brison said.
“He came from tremendous privilege, but he chose to use that privilege and that upbringing to serve the greater good. That sense of noblesse oblige is something that a lot of people of privilege don’t necessarily remember, that sense of giving back. That was something he took seriously.”
The Canadian Press