Dec 03, 2018

George H.W. Bush: 1924-2018

Steve Fullhart

George H.W. Bush has been deeply woven into the fabric of the Brazos Valley.

The 41st president’s library and museum complex was opened on the campus of Texas A&M University in 1997, along with the Bush School of Government and Public Service. It is where the former commander-in-chief has his final resting place.

Bush died at his Houston home Friday, November 30, 2018 at the age of 94.

The university traces the first associations between Bush and A&M to the 1960s when he was serving as a congressman representing the Houston area. Both as vice president to Ronald Reagan and as president, Bush returned to the campus. He delivered the commencement address to Aggie graduates in the spring of 1989, the first year of his presidency.

In 1991, Bush decided his presidential library and museum would be located on the A&M campus. Not long after he lost the 1992 election, Bush gave one of his final speeches as president at the university on December 5 of that year.

“On a personal note, I am looking forward to spending more time here, to actively participating in our Presidential Library that will be built here, to helping the School of Public Service that will be part of that library,” Bush said in that speech. “And Barbara and I are both looking forward to being part of the A&M family.”

In the two decades that would follow the 1997 opening, the Bushes were ever-present in the Brazos Valley, frequent visitors from their Houston home and when they weren’t summering in Maine. World, national, state and local leaders were invited by the president to present their perspectives to Aggieland audiences and Bush School classes. Among them were George Bush Award winners honored for their public service. The recipients: Ronald Reagan, Robert Gates, Billy Graham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edward Kennedy, Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl. Save for Reagan and Donald Trump, every American president since Gerald Ford has visited the Brazos Valley at the invitation of George H.W. Bush.

To go along with associated exhibits at the museum, famed experts from fields like the military, transportation, science and sports have come to the Brazos Valley, with the president and Mrs. Bush on hand to greet and listen. One of the most popular exhibits was a 2005 train exhibit that featured the unveiling of a Union Pacific locomotive numbered 4141 and painted in the style of Air Force One. That locomotive was earmarked to pull the funeral train carrying the president's body back to College Station.

The insightful exhibits and prominent speakers will continue to be featured in the Brazos Valley thanks to the name attached to the facilities and the remarkable reputations each have built in a few short years.

In addition to being Bush 41’s CIA director, Robert Gates was the president of Texas A&M before becoming President George W. Bush’s secretary of defense. In a 2016 interview with KBTX, Gates said, “I think it’s not saying too much to say that him deciding to place his library there really put Texas A&M on the map. People knew A&M from the standpoint of sports, and people were aware it was a big university. I think in terms of a place of excellence, a place of international importance and consequence, I think that his placing of the library and museum there, the people he brought to campus – particularly in the first 10 or 15 years the library was there – were not going to any other college campus or university campus in America. They were going to Texas A&M.”

The Bush School offers four graduate programs and graduate certificates in an effort to prepare future generations of professionals working the public sectors and those at the intersection of business and government. U.S. News and World Report says the Bush School is in the top ten percent of graduate public affairs schools in the country. President Bush would often participate in classes with the students and faculty.

The Bush Library and Museum features a permanent exhibit on the life of President Bush and his family, along with temporary exhibits. More than 44 million documents, two million photographs, 10,000 recordings and 122,000 artifacts are part of the library. Future expansion is planned, with efforts to bring a retired Marine One helicopter to the grounds along with a restaurant.

“I think it gave the school a panache, something unique about it in addition to its own culture that was very attractive,” Gates said. “The thing that really made it work was that there was a consistency in the culture and values of Texas A&M as an institution, and George H.W. Bush as a public servant and as president. He was a great fit for Texas A&M and vice versa.”

The Bushes' participation in the Brazos Valley didn’t stop with the school, library and museum that bear his name. As huge sports fans, the Bushes were in attendance for Aggie Athletics events. The couple could often be seen at football and baseball games, among other sports. Other major campus happenings like The Big Event (pictured at the top) would be attended by the Bushes. For years, they would stop in at local restaurants to dine. President Bush would routinely work out at the Student Recreation Center on campus alongside students, faculty and staff.

The president’s burial site at the library complex is next to Barbara’s. His wife of 73 years preceded him in death by seven months. Also at the site is the couple’s daughter, Robin, who had advanced leukemia and died in 1953 at the age of three.