Connecticut mourns the death of favorite son, George H.W. Bush
George H.W. Bush’s roots went deep in Connecticut.
The former president, who died late Friday at the age of 94, moved to Greenwich as a baby. He grew up town, the second oldest of five siblings in a 1903 Victorian with a wraparound porch at 15 Grove Lane.
Bush attended Greenwich Country Day School — arriving by limousine for classes.
Greenwich First Selectman Peter J. Tesei remembered Bush as a “hometown boy.”
“The Town of Greenwich, like the nation and the world, mourns the loss of one of its own — a member of the ‘Greatest Generation,’” Tesei said in a statement. “President George H.W. Bush was a true hometown boy, that regardless of his position in the global sphere of political power, he remained forever tied to his family roots here in Greenwich.
“President Bush was the epitome of selfless service to his country. His modesty, his genuine and dignified character served him well as the consummate patriot, statesman and president. His steadfast demeanor established the high standard of conduct for those who hold our Nation’s highest office,” Tesei said.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Bush family with the gratitude that they so willingly shared their ‘Poppy’ with our nation to help make the United States the global power it is. May he now rest in peace with his beloved Barbara who passed away in April.”
Greenwich is the place where Bush met his wife, Barbara, who was from neighboring Harrison, N.Y. The two shared a dance at a Christmas Party at the Round Hill Club in town. He was 18 or 19, she was 16. The marriage, which lasted for 73 years until her death at age 92 in April, produced six children. The oldest: former President George W. Bush, who was born in New Haven while his father was a student at Yale.
“Yale has lost a loyal friend,” Yale University President Peter Salovey said in a statement Saturday morning. “Throughout his lifetime, President Bush exemplified the values of service and leadership we seek to foster at Yale. A decorated veteran, he spent three years as a naval aviator flying combat missions over the Pacific before entering Yale.
“Once here, he distinguished himself as a student and an athlete. One of the great first basemen and baseball captains in Yale’s history, President Bush remained an avid ‘Bulldog,’ a fan of Yale athletics, and an especially ardent champion of our student-veterans. He set an example of dignified service to this country that will continue to inspire future generations at Yale.”
Gov Dannel Malloy directed that all U.S. and state flags in Connecticut be lowered to half-staff for 30 days in remembrance of Bush.
“President George H.W. Bush was not only the leader of our nation during a time of transition in a post-Cold War world, but he was also a son of Connecticut, a war hero, a baseball enthusiast, and a dedicated and selfless public servant,” Malloy said. “His commitment to serve this nation when called upon in numerous ways — as an aviator, a congressman, the head of the CIA, vice president, and as president and commander-in-chief — illustrated his undying love of country. Especially at this time as we mourn his loss, all of us as Americans should take a moment to reflect on the diplomatic ways that President Bush lived his life and the example he set for our nation, particularly in the years following his service in the White House.
“He understood that living in the greatest democracy in the world also means that we may have differences of opinion in policies and ideology, but at the end of the day we are all Americans who love our country, whose peaceful coexistence is the very thing that makes this country great, and who all want our nation to succeed as one.” Malloy said. “Cathy and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Bush family, both to those who reside here in Connecticut as well as throughout the country.”
Former Chief State’s Attorney Christopher Morano, whose dad, the late state Sen. Michael L. Morano, R-Greenwich, was close friends with Bush, recalled Saturday that the two shared the Greenwich connection, but also a lifelong devotion to helping people.
“They shared one thing: the genteel ability to cross the (political party) aisle, they both shared that,” said Morano, who grew up in Greenwich but now lives and practices law in Essex.
Morano recalled greeting Bush at a Hartford event in the 1980s and said as soon as he mentioned his name, Bush “immediately referred to my father.”
“He was so much of a presence in person,” Morano said of Bush. “He really was listening.”
Morano said that his father, who served in the General Assembly for nearly 30 years and was known as “the beloved one,” stayed in touch with Bush, through notes and phone calls.
“When my father was ill, (Bush) would reach out to see how he was doing.”
“They had a very warm relationship,” Morano said. “He (Bush) always remembered the people he met through his career. He never forgot the people he worked with on his way up.”
Russell Reynolds Jr. of Greenwich served as Bush’s campaign finance manager in Connecticut and was an old friend.
Thinking about the former president, Reynolds said a number of descriptive terms came to mind — “love, grace, responsibility, humble, optimistic — a beautiful human being.”
Reynolds visited with Barbara and George H.W. Bush when he was vice president and they were living at the Naval Observatory in Washington D.C, and came away impressed with their lack of pretense — “real people,” he called them.
Bush was the kind of leader the country was fortunate to have, Reynolds said. “It was a privilege working for him. Really smart, and tough when he needed to be,” he recalled.
E. Pendleton James, a longtime staff member for President Ronald Reagan, said Bush was a major asset to the Reagan administration.
“He was probably the best vice president any president could have,” said James, a Greenwich resident. “With his knowledge of Washington, and foreign policy, he complemented Ronald Reagan very well. He was very able.”
Bush was also a kind and considerate friend, James said. When James was moving his family from California to Washington, Bush made an extra effort to help the family find their way in an unfamiliar city.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who also lives in Greenwich, recalled Bush’s long service to the nation.
“What a great life! George Bush earned deep respect across the political spectrum because of his honesty, decency, and undoubted dedication to America,” Blumenthal said. “Agree or disagree, people knew that what he said was what he believed. And what he did, as well as said, was what he believed was right for our nation. His personal courage, moral fiber, and love for America’s rich diversity, will be deeply missed. Our thoughts and hearts go out to his family, some still in Connecticut, which is proud of his early years and family roots here.”
State Rep. Fred Camillo, R-Greenwich, paid tribute to Bush’s service to the country, something that went far beyond politics.
“No man ever walked into the presidency more prepared, and no one ever walked out more respected,” Camillo said. “His decency as a person, his performance as a leader, and his courage as the youngest American shot down in World War II will cement his legacy as an American hero.”
State. Sen. L Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, praised Bush’s public service.
“President Bush helped define the Greatest Generation based on his devotion to military and public service with his genuine intent to improve the country and relationships around the world,” Frantz said. “Additionally, he was famous for being the consummate family man and for being a truly nice person. He will be sorely missed, and I believe his passing marks the end of an era.”
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton took to Twitter to remember Bush.
“A great man. And a great president. Met him twice. Sent my father a beautiful note in the 70s - he never forgot. History will be kind to him,” Boughton said.
Ansonia Mayor Dave Cassetti, who met Bush and talked to him for a minute or so in 1992, has fond memories of that experience — and of Bush’s presidency.
“He was the most qualified man to hold the position of president — I mean, he was ambassador to China, he was director of the CIA, he was vice president,” Casseti said.
“I’m saddened to hear that he passed, but at least I got to see him and talk to him — and I’ve got the picture to prove it,” said Cassetti.
Bush, who was president at the time, spoke in Warsaw Park in Ansonia, said Cassetti, who was a construction contractor back then.
“He looked at me and came up to me. I gave him a shirt and a hat from my business,” said Cassetti. “Somebody snapped a picture and it appeared in the Waterbury Republican.
“I got to talk to him for a minute,” Cassetti recalled. “He actually was on his way to Florida because Hurricane Andrew was on its way.”
He remembered Bush as “a very nice man, very easy going, very polite. He thanked me for the shirt and hat,” which bore the insignia of Cassetti’s Birmingham Construction, he said.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman also mourned Bush, who is remembered as a favorite son in the Nutmeg State.
“President Bush lived an extraordinary life and his lasting impact on our nation will be forever remembered,” she said. “The entire Bush family has given so much to our country, particularly through their political and military services, and our hearts are with them during this time of mourning.”
Ken Borsuk, Robert Marchant, Helen Bennett and Mark Zaretsky contributed to this story.