He was the embodiment of the noblest traits of the Bush dynasty, going back to Reverend James Smith Bush (1825-1889). Starting with that attorney-turned-Episcopal-priest, the family placed decency, civic engagement and enterprise among the values it felt most important to pass down from one generation to the next.
The Bush family has a few locales we think of as quintessentially theirs, principally Kennebunkport, Maine and Midland, Texas, but the characteristic quest for opportunity saw them spend time and leave legacies in a few others as well. There are the years James spent in San Francisco, and those that Prescott Bush, George H.W.'s father, spent in Columbus, Ohio.
By the time George H.W. came along, the family's tradition of attending Yale was long-established. Consequently, it was well-connected. Still, a middle-class ethos manifested itself in visible ways. It was George H.W. who brought Midland into the constellation of places the family called home. He ventured into the oil-drilling business when staying on the east coast might have been a faster route to career success and personal prominence.
He was a patriot, demonstrating unquestioned valor as a World War II pilot, and later exhibiting his love of country by serving in capacities ranging from House member to CIA chief to special China envoy.
As we know, though, the "vision thing" eluded him. That just wasn't how he approached service to his country.
There is, very narrowly speaking, a parallel to the way the current president looks at American governance. It's borne of the businessman's mindset. Your hoss sense tells you what ought to be done, and then you tackle that like a project manager (with a bit of the deal-maker thrown in). This is why organizations like the local- and national-level Chamber of Commerce don't behave as if they are informed by a core ideological outlook.
You will not find more decent people than the Bushes, and that was certainly true of George H.W. He was thoughtful, cordial, and inclined to trust that those with whom he interacted shared those traits.
This assumption got him into occasional trouble, most notably when he wound up going back on his "read-my-lips-no-new-taxes" pledge because he figured that when he sent Richard Darman up to Capitol Hill to negotiate a budget with Democrats, they would negotiate in good faith. Bad move. That's not how Democrats roll.
He was basically mild-mannered, but he did have his impish side. How many people want to sky-dive at age 85?
The days when his likes could serve important purposes in the life of the country may be over. They tend to get eaten alive in our time of venomous tribalism.
He wasn't a standard-bearer for conservatism like his immediate predecessor as president, but he brought a professionalism and effectiveness to an important four-year period in world history. He had a steady hand and an understated wisdom that can make us all, from his family to us as citizens of this nation, proud and grateful.
Cross-posted at Medium.