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 Thursday 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, their daughter who died of leukemia at age 3.
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 — with plenty of cracks about his goofy side, too.
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 was 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."
Meacham recounted how comedian Dana Carvey once said the key to doing an impersonation of Bush was "Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne."
None of that would be a surprise to Bush. Meacham had read his eulogy to him, said Bush spokesman Jim McGrath, and Bush responded to it with the crack: "That's a lot about me, Jon."
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.
Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming, 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.
Earlier, a military band played "Hail to the Chief" as Bush's casket was carried down the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where he had lain in state. Family members looked on as servicemen fired off a cannon salute.
His hearse was then driven in a motorcade to the cathedral ceremony, slowing in front of the White House, the route lined with people much of the way, bundled in winter hats and taking photos.
Waiting for his arrival inside, Trump shook hands with Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who greeted him by saying "Good morning." Trump did not shake hands with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who looked straight ahead.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that the day marked "a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life."
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 will lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church before his burial Thursday at sunset.
Brian Boitano went out for a drink in Lincoln the other night. And then another, and then another.
The Olympic gold medalist was impressed with what he saw, and what he sampled, during his visits to Barrymore’s, The Other Room and a few of Lincoln’s other finer bars.
“There are a lot of cutting-edge places,” he said. “I found that where we went to last night was pretty diverse.”
The former world champion figure skater was out on the town for a night of field research. Now a Food Network personality, he also took a part-time job developing cocktails and wine and food pairings for the $19 million Kindler Hotel going up near 11th and P streets.
And he began by seeing what Lincoln is drinking. “The first step is literally to find out what Lincoln wants, and it seems that Lincoln wants everything, really,” he said.
The next step: He’ll return to San Francisco to build the cocktail menu, spending months testing and tweaking the recipes.
At the same time, but on the other side of the country, another former Olympic figure skater and his wife will be designing a wine cellar capable of storing more than 1,000 bottles.
“It’s going to be both function and design,” said Michael Weiss, who builds high-end homes in the Washington, D.C., area, and whose wife, Lisa, specializes in wine cellars. “It’s going to be the first thing you see pretty much when you walk in the lobby.”
Both skaters were in Lincoln on Wednesday with Kindler owner Nick Castaneda to update progress on the 49-room boutique hotel, scheduled to open in the spring.
It’s taken years to get to this point, said Castaneda, an Arizona developer who married Lincoln native Brooke Kindler.
“It hasn’t really been a real easy process because there’s so many people involved,” he said. “But I think the product is starting to come around.”
It was close to everything — a parking ramp, Memorial Stadium, the Lied Center for Performing Arts, Misty’s.
“If I had to pick a location again, I’d just pick that location,” he said. “I think it’s the best location.”
He announced the plan in late 2016 and later enlarged it — adding three floors, securing $2.6 million in city tax incentives, working with the neighboring building’s owners, who are renovating the Commercial Club ballroom and building four of their own rooms the hotel will manage.
Castaneda couldn’t yet say how much the Kindler will charge, but he expected rooms to start somewhere near $200 a night, though that rate could double at times.
He’ll market it toward guests who want more than a three-star experience. Heated floors. Bigger TVs. Softer carpet.
And a drink menu designed by the first American to land a triple axel in competition.
“Obviously, you want everybody, but there will be a certain group of people that will go to it,” he said. “What I don’t want is seven guys in a room drinking Budweiser, ruining things.”