This past December 5, mid-morning, I made sure my schedule was cleared. I was intent to watch on TV what was sure to be a historic occasion—the memorial service for President George H.W. Bush at the Washington National Cathedral. It did not disappoint.
The service was precise, elegant and grand but still very moving. The eulogists included former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, John Meacham, the senior Bush’s biographer, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and, of course, President George W. Bush.
I was coming of political age during the presidency of H.W. Bush. To listen to stories from that era was fascinating. They included small and funny anecdotes as well as epic international events. It was the elder Bush who presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall as the leader of the free world. To hear the former Canadian Prime Minister talk of that era was a reminder of a by-gone era of political leadership. The leaders of the western world included President Francois Mitterand of France, Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain. With Presidents Ronald Raegan and his successor George H.W. Bush, they stood down the Soviet Empire and finessed the reunification of Germany, closing the 20th century in epic fashion.
President George H.W Bush’s right-hand man and best friend during those times, prior to them and ever since was James A. Baker. Baker was Secretary of State in the Bush presidency but was present with the elder Bush since the two men were in their 30s. It was the preacher’s eulogy that Wednesday afternoon that caught my attention.
On the morning before President Bush passed away, he had been mostly unconscious. But his old friend Jim Baker came by the hospital as he had done almost every day during the last week. President Bush perked up. “Where are we going, Bake’s,” H.W. asked.
“We’re going to heaven Mr. President,” Baker replied.
“That’s where I want to go,” Bush responded.
With President Bush barely conscious throughout the remainder of the day, Baker stood at the foot of his bed rubbing his feet. This was not a mother and child. It was not a husband and wife. One was the Ambassador to China and to the United Nations and Director of the CIA. He went on to become Vice President of the United States for eight years and President for four. The other was Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff and Treasury Secretary and one of the most successful Secretaries of State in modern times.
But there he was, rubbing the former President’s feet on his death bed.
It was a little thing.
But it was a powerful gesture of compassion; a true moment of tenderness; and a simple act of genuine love between two buddies in the twilight of their lives.
Even amongst two political giants of their time, it’s the little things that matter in the end.