A national day of mourning was declared on December 5 to commemorate the life of George H.W. Bush ’42, P’64 ’71. The 41st U.S. President passed away in his Houston home on November 30, aged 94, after an extensive career in politics and years of loyal devotion to Andover.
As part of the national day of mourning, the United States Postal Service suspended mail pickup and delivery, leading to the closure of Andover’s Central Services. Additionally, the flag in front of Paresky Commons was held at half mast, and the portrait of Bush in the Trustee Room was veiled with a black cloth.
During his time at Andover, Bush was a leader in student government, class president, captain of both the varsity soccer and baseball teams, and an Editor for The Phillipian, according to the Andover website.
In the 1942 Pot Pourri yearbook, he received the superlatives “Best All Around Fellow,” “Most Respected,” “Best Athlete,” “Most Popular,” “Most Faculty Drag,” and “Handsomest.”
While he was a student at Andover, Bush met his future wife, Barbara Bush P’64 ’71, at a Christmas dance in his hometown of Greenwich, Conn. They both did not know how to dance to the waltz that was playing, so they sat down together and got to know one another, according to “The Eagle.”
“It was a storybook meeting,” Bush wrote in his autobiography, “Decision Points,” published in 2010. Although she did not go to Abbot Academy, Barbara Bush was his date to his Andover prom a year later, according to a document from the Andover archives.
In 1941, during Bush’s time at Andover, the Japanese military struck the United States navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, an event that inspired Bush to join the Navy to serve his country. Bush enlisted in the Navy the day of his Andover graduation, which was also his 18th birthday, according to the Andover website.
According to a document from the archives, Bush said in 1987 during a visit to campus, “As I look back on my life, this school did play a disproportionate role in shaping my life… I was blessed, I admit it. From the minute I walked into this place, I took a giant leap ahead of many others out there in the educational system.”
“You’re sustained by the values that you learn early on in life, right here at [Andover]. I’m not sure I realized it at the time, [but] I learned a set of values that I hope have guided my life ever since,” he continued.
One teacher that particularly affected Bush was Alston Chase, Instructor in Classics, according to Nicholas Kip ’68, Instructor in Classics. Chase helped solve the enigma code during World War II.
Kip said in an interview with The Phillipian, “[Bush] said that the most form of influence [he] had was Dr. Chase. Dr. Chase was the divine right king of the Classics Department and in fact considered in this country one of the divine right kings of secondary school teaching. He had a PhD from Harvard and so on. He was also big on this thing of character and George Bush said that Dr. Chase was the most formative influence on [his] life when [he] was here.”
Bush continued his devotion to Andover after his time as a student, serving on the Board of Trustees for 16 years — three as an Alumni Trustee and 13 as a Charter Trustee.
Head of School John Palfrey wrote in a statement on the Andover website, “‘Poppy,’ as he was known during his Andover days, brought his kind spirit, sharp wit and fair-minded leadership to 16 years of service as a trustee. We are grateful for his generous philanthropy and optimism; we remain deeply moved by his expression of hope for future generations of students.”
“From Andover class president to Commander-in-Chief, George Bush embodied the school’s founding principle Non Sibi (not for self) and embraced the belief that public service — in support of one’s neighbor, community or country — is the noblest calling,” wrote Palfrey.
Though named after his grandfather, George Herbert Walker, Bush earned the nickname “Poppy” from his mother, who called her father “Pop” and her son “little Pop” or “Poppy,” according to “George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography.”
During Bush’s vice presidency in 1987, he visited campus and met with members of Andover’s radio broadcasting station, W.P.A.A. Bush also visited campus in the fall of 1989 while he was serving as 41st President of the United States.
Kinn Chen de Velarde ’91 was an Upper when Bush came to campus in 1989. As a representative for Rabbit Pond Cluster and co-founder of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance, then called the Gay-Straight Alliance, she was chosen as a student leader to meet Bush. Chen de Velarde disagreed with his abortion policies at the time and wrote a letter on a large poster board, which she then folded up in her pocket and gave to Bush when she met with him.
Chen de Velarde said, “There were a lot of people who, probably even today, my contemporaries, who remember that visit fondly all the way around, were probably unhappy about my actions at the time and still disagree with and disapprove of my actions at the time. But I feel that… who [politicians] are as people and who they are as representatives is complex, and is varied, and is textured, and I accept and respect all of that. I think it’s important that they hear our voices, no matter how young or old we are.”
Chen de Velarde said that it was risky for her to give Bush the posterboard, because she did so unannounced and pulled the item from her pocket in front of the Secret Service.
Chen de Velarde said, “I was lucky and people were gracious… I was not detained, I was not thrown out of school, I was not suspended. None of those things happened, and I am grateful that I was able to… make our voices heard and be received in a gracious manner [by Bush].”
That same day, Chen de Velarde was part of a group of teachers and students who protested in front of George Washington Hall.
According to a document from the archives summarizing his visit, Bush said of the protest, “You know, this is modest, compared to what I’ve been through, and what I do. I mean, you know, when you are in this job, everybody says, ‘Here’s a chance to get out there and get a little coverage’ for his point of view or her point of view.” When asked if he thought it was the right way to protest, Bush replied, “Sure! Oh absolutely…”
Bush last visited campus on September 30, 2015, surprising students and faculty during an All-School Meeting (ASM) dedicated to a documentary about Bush, “41 on 41.”
Melanie Cheung ’20 was only a prospective student visiting campus at the time when she met Bush.
Cheung said, “I just finished up with meeting someone and I saw [Bush] in a golf cart. I just remember my parents and I shaking hands with him and talking with him for a minute or two — it was really cool and so surreal. The encounter spoke to me about how Andover is a place where things like this can happen to anyone.”
After the ASM, Bush was invited to a private lunch with seven recipients of the Bush Scholarship, which was established in 2002 and awarded to students with outstanding academic abilities and possess strong character and leadership qualities, according to the Andover website.
“It always gives me great joy to return to Andover,” he said during the lunch. “The lessons learned and the relationships forged here have meant so much throughout my full and adventurous life, and I could wish nothing more for every student who is so blessed to walk on this campus.”
Bush spent his life as a public servant for the United States. After becoming the youngest naval pilot in World War II, Bush served as a two-term congressman from Texas, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, the first American envoy to the People’s Republic of China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Vice President under Ronald Reagan for two terms before he became President of the United States himself.
Bush was father of George W. Bush ’64, 43rd president of the United States, and Jeb Bush ’71, former presidential candidate for the Republican party during the 2016 election.
Bush’s death, as announced by his office, came about eight months after that of his wife.
Palfrey wrote in his statement, “I will forever be inspired by President Bush’s devotion to Andover, his long-held belief in our school’s mission and his heartfelt interest in the lives of students across generations. What an extraordinary privilege for our campus community to have shared that special September day with President and Mrs. Bush, and for many in our extended alumni community to have known him as a friend and their country’s 41st president.”
For an interactive timeline of Bush and his time at Andover, whether as a student or as a visitor, click here.