Last Friday, Houstonians heard the news they had long been expecting. Former President George H.W. Bush had died at the age of 94. A week of memorial services followed. The ceremonies concluded with a final day of services that allowed Houston residents to pay their last respects to one of their own.
People began lining up Wednesday morning, long before Bush's body was flown back to Houston from Washington, D.C. Nearly 12,000 passed through St. Martin's Episcopal Church, where Bush lay in repose.
"My father was in naval aviation as well, about a year behind him, and I've gotten way more emotional than I ever thought," said Denton Ragland, a volunteer on Bush's 1988 presidential campaign.
"He's just a bigger than life person who would deny that, I think, and say he was just an average guy, which of course he wasn't," Ragland said. "But he's a great example of what we should all strive for, and I think he's also a symbol of what makes this country great."
Lynne Campbell Bonham attended St. Martin's with the Bushes for decades. She taught Sunday school alongside them during their early years in Houston. "He was such a wonderful, real soul," Bonham said, "and he had a very deep faith in Christianity, Episcopalianism, and he was a very special man, as was Barbara."
In the funeral service at St. Martin's, James Baker, Bush's secretary of State, paid tribute to his friend of more than 60 years.
"For millions and millions across the globe," Baker said, "the world became a better place because George Bush occupied the White House for four years. He was not considered a skilled speaker, but his deeds were quite eloquent." Baker praised Bush's leadership in the Gulf War, his success in bringing the Cold War to an end, and his signing of two nuclear arms reduction treaties.
Bush's oldest grandson, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, spoke next of the man he always knew as ‘Gampy.'
"Having flown 58 combat missions in the Pacific," Commissioner Bush said, "and having been shot down and rescued at sea, he never saw his own heroism as being any greater than anyone else that has worn the uniform. I know this because I've experienced it personally. He was proud when [grandson Charles] Walker joined the Marine Corps, when I joined the Navy, and even prouder when we served overseas. Our service never compared to his, yet we could never convince him of that."
Bush was a longtime fan of The Oak Ridge Boys. They sang "Amazing Grace," fulfilling a pledge to the late president. Reba McEntire sang "The Lord's Prayer."
Following the service, a special train carried Bush's remains to College Station as thousands of people lined the route to wave goodbye. George Herbert Walker Bush was buried on the grounds of his presidential library at Texas A&M University, beside his wife Barbara and his daughter Robin.