A legacy of service
Not many American leaders can match a public service career that has come full circle. Indeed, not many American leaders can match the scope of service or impact on the world community of President George H.W. Bush. His 50-year career is capped on one end with service in the United States Navy during World War II and on the other with a term as leader of the free world. In the time between, Mr. Bush served as a Congressman from Texas, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, liaison to the People’s Republic of China, Director of Central Intelligence, and as vice president of the United States. And throughout it all, he remained a committed family man, as he is today.
Born George Herbert Walker Bush on June 12, 1924, son of Prescott and Dorothy Bush, the future president was raised in what he described as a “close, happy family” with his siblings Prescott Jr., Nancy, Jonathan and William T. “My mother couldn’t make up her mind which of her father’s names [George, Herbert, Walker] she wanted me to have,” Bush said. “When christening time came, she decided not to decide.”
George Bush admired his parents, and he credits them for the lessons they taught him at an early age. “My parents were my most important role models. ... My dad stood for something and believed in giving back,” Mr. Bush said. “My mother taught us fundamental things: ‘Don’t brag.’ ‘Think of the other guy.’ ‘Be kind to people.’ The things they taught me served me in good stead all the way through my presidency.”
Bush signed up for the Navy on June 12, 1942 — his 18th birthday — just after graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He later said he was inspired by the prevailing sense of patriotism that swept the nation after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. “My reaction was the same as every other American’s: ‘We’ve got to do something about this one,’” Bush recalled. Just under a year later, on June 9, 1943, Bush received his aviator’s wings.
That summer, he secretly became engaged to Barbara Pierce, the girl he had dated his senior year at Phillips. After the war, George and Barbara settled down in New Haven, where postwar enrollment at Yale skyrocketed. Bush studied economics and was captain of the baseball team, as he had been at Andover. On July 6, 1946, the young couple’s first child, George Walker, was born. Bush graduated from Yale 22 months later in May 1948.
George and Barbara Bush added five more children over the next decade. John Ellis (“Jeb”) was born in 1953, Neil M. in 1955, Marvin P. in 1956, and Dorothy W. (“Doro”) in 1959. Their first daughter, Pauline Robinson (“Robin”), was born in 1949 but died of leukemia just before her 4th birthday.
The summer after graduating from Yale, Bush loaded his red 1947 Studebaker Champion Deluxe — for which he had paid $1,525.50 after trading in his 1941 Plymouth Tudor — and headed to Texas. He wanted to stake a share in the booming business of oil speculation.
By 1950, Bush decided he was ready to set out on his own. He and neighbor John Overbey formed the Bush-Overbey Oil Development Company and quickly learned the trade of buying and selling oil royalties and leases. In 1953, Bush-Overbey teamed up with brothers Hugh and Bill Liedtke, whose office was next door, and the men formed Zapata Petroleum Corporation.
The venture quickly paid off — by the end of 1954, a single Zapata site was yielding 1,250 barrels per day. Though Zapata was very successful — it later became petroleum giant Pennzoil — Bush decided to take a different tack and became president of Zapata Off-shore Drilling, a new subsidiary. The companies later split, and in 1959 the Bushes moved from Midland to Houston.
In 1962, with his new company a success, Bush turned his eye to politics. He was asked by the local establishment to consider running for chairman of the Harris County Republican Party — Harris County, of course, being home to Houston — and Bush accepted. “This was the challenge I’d been waiting for, an opening into politics at the ground level,” he later said.
Two years later, in 1964, Bush made a bold run for the Senate, seeking to unseat Democrat Ralph Yarborough. Though Bush garnered more Republican votes than any candidate ever had in a statewide election, he was unable to overcome Yarborough or the LBJ halo effect. The 1966 mid-term elections were a different story for Bush, who defeated incumbent Frank Briscoe in the 7th Congressional District.
He won re-election to the House in 1968, and by 1970, he again had his eye on the Senate. Bush easily won the 1970 Republican primary for the Senate, but Yarborough was defeated in the Democratic primary by Lloyd Bentsen, a fellow businessman and war veteran from the Rio Grande Valley. Bush subsequently lost his second Senate bid Bentsen.
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