George H.W. Bush Biography

U.S. President, U.S. Representative, U.S. Vice President, Diplomat(1924–)
The 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush served as vice president under Ronald Reagan. He is the father of George W. Bush, the 43rd president.

Who Is George H.W. Bush?

Born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, George H.W. Bush fought in WWII and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966. He served as Ronald Reagan's vice president for two terms and then won the 1988 U.S. presidential race, before losing his bid for a second term to Bill Clinton. Afterward, he made appearances for son George W. Bush, who also was elected U.S. president, and co-founded the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.

Early Life

George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts. The son of Senator Prescott Bush, he was born into a wealthy and politically active family. Bush attended Phillips Academy, an elite boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts. He began dating his future wife, known as Barbara Pierce at the time, after they were introduced at a Christmas dance in 1941. Bush was 17 years old at the time, and Barbara was just 16. (They married in January 1945.)

On his 18th birthday, Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy, becoming the youngest pilot in the Navy during World War II. He served as a combat pilot in the war, flying carrier-based torpedo bomber aircraft and a total of 58 combat missions. He had a brush with death when his plane was hit during a bombing run in the Pacific. After managing to escape the burning aircraft, he was quickly rescued by a U.S. Navy submarine. Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his WWII service.

After the war, Bush attended Yale University, where he graduated with a degree in economics in 1948. He later moved to Midland, Texas, where he found success in the oil and petroleum industry.

Congressman and Vice President

Bush became chairman of the Harris County Republican Party in 1963. The following year, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas. It didn't take long for Bush to enter Congress, however; in 1966, two years after his unsuccessful Senate bid, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, ultimately serving two terms. Bush was later appointed to several important positions, including U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1971, head of the Republican National Committee during the Watergate scandal, U.S. envoy to China, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1976.

Bush then set his sights on the U.S. presidency, but failed to win his party's nomination in 1980, losing it to his opponent, Ronald Reagan. Bush would make it to the White House soon after, however: He was chosen as Reagan's vice-presidential running mate. Reagan won the 1980 election, defeating Democrat challenger Jimmy Carter. He was re-elected in 1984, with Bush serving as his vice president for both terms.

U.S. Presidency

Bush finally reached the White House's top seat in 1989; he won the 1988 election against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, becoming the first sitting vice president to be elected president since 1837. During his nomination acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention, Bush famously stated, "Read my lips: No new taxes."

During his presidency, Bush skillfully handled foreign affairs during a tumultuous time for the nation. Just months into his first term, he responded to the dissolve of the Soviet Union and oversaw the U.S. military's removal of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega from power. Not long after, Bush responded to then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait (August 1990), creating a national coalition and leading a military strike to drive Hussein out of the oil-rich country. Bush's handling of the invasion in Kuwait is largely viewed as his greatest presidential success.

Bush delivered a speech to the American public as the invasion began, stating, "Now the 28 countries with forces in the Gulf area have exhausted all reasonable efforts to reach a peaceful resolution. [We] have no choice but to drive Saddam from Kuwait by force. We will not fail. We are determined to knock out Saddam Hussein's nuclear bomb potential. We will also destroy his chemical weapons facilities. Much of Saddam's artillery and tanks will be destroyed. ... Our objectives are clear: Saddam Hussein's forces will leave Kuwait."

Despite his global successes, Bush's inability to handle economic problems at home were blamed for his re-election bid failure in 1992.

Post-Presidency

When his eldest son, George W. Bush, was elected president in 2000, George Bush Sr. made many public appearances, frequently to speak in support of his son. In addition to being a proud and supportive father, he has lent his support to several political causes. In 2005, he joined forces with former president Bill Clinton—the Democratic candidate who defeated him in the 1992 election—to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast region, especially Louisiana and Mississippi. The Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund raised more than $100 million in donations in its first few months.

In 2011, Bush was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Later Years

In November 2012, an 88-year-old Bush was admitted to a Houston hospital to be treated for a cough related to bronchitis. His cough reportedly improved, but he remained hospitalized because of other health setbacks. Bush developed a "persistent fever," according to an Associated Press report, prompting his move to an intensive care unit in December. That year, it also became known that Bush was suffering from lower-body parkinsonism, a disease that has confined him to a wheelchair.

The former president seemed to be in good spirits the following July. Photos released to the press showed Bush with a shaved head, in support of a Secret Service agent's young son who was battling leukemia. Bush and his wife also contributed to a special fund established to pay for the boy's medical expenses.

Bush was admitted to Houston Methodist Hospital in December 2014 after experiencing shortness of breath. In 2013, he had been hospitalized for two months following a bout with bronchitis. Despite his health setbacks over the years, Bush has skydived on a number of milestone birthdays since leaving the White House. His last jump was in June 2014, in celebration of his 90th birthday. He had previously parachuted for his 80th and 85th birthdays.

In July 2015, the 91-year-old former president fell at his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and broke a vertebrae in his neck. His medical condition was considered “not life threatening,” according to his spokesman.

On January 14, 2017, Bush was hospitalized again, suffering from "an acute respiratory problem stemming from pneumonia," according to a statement. His wife, Barbara, was hospitalized on January 18 after experiencing "fatigue and coughing," and was released on on January 23. Bush was discharged from the hospital a week later, on January 30. Just days later, the resilient former president and his wife attended Super Bowl LI at the NRG Stadium in their hometown of Houston. They were cheered on by the crowd when Bush performed the coin toss before the start of the game.

In late 2017, Bush was among the list of politicians and Hollywood bigwigs accused of sexual harassment. His alleged indiscretions dated back to at least 1992, though most of the accusations stemmed from more recent events. Bush’s spokesman, Jim McGrath, attributed the allegations to the wheelchair-bound former president being unable to reach above waist level when posing for photos with women.

On November 25 of that year, Bush officially became the longest living president in American history, at 93 years and 166 days. He surpassed the old mark held by Gerald Ford, with Ronald Reagan in third place, at 93 years and 120 days, and Jimmy Carter still in contention, some 3 1/2 months behind Bush.

Bush spends part of the year in Houston, Texas, with his wife, Barbara. The couple also stays at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Married for more than 70 years, George and Barbara Bush have six children: George, Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Dorothy. Their daughter, Robin, died in 1953.

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