Why Georgia was so special to President George H.W. Bush

He and Barbara Bush began their 73-year marriage here. They left an indelible legacy.

President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush hailed from the Northeast and spent much of their lives in Texas, but often had Georgia on their minds.

They began their 73-year marriage here, honeymooning at The Cloister at Sea Island after their New York wedding. Their support was key to the Morehouse School of Medicine and to literacy programs across the state. The Republican stalwarts earned the respect of Georgia political figures from both sides of the aisle.

“His administration was marked by grace, civility and social conscience,” former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Through his Points of Light initiative and other projects, he espoused a uniquely American volunteer spirit, fostering bipartisan support for citizen service and inspiring millions to embrace community volunteerism as a cherished responsibility.”

Former President Bush died Friday at age 94, eight months after Barbara Bush’s death in April at 92.

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“A sad day for the Bush family and for America,” said Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican who met Bush while working for then U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson, now Georgia’s senior senator. “President Bush was a great man who selflessly served his nation, not only as president of the United States but in so many different capacities under several administrations. He made his community, country and world a better place.”

The Bushes enjoyed strong — and loud — bipartisan support ahead of the 2017 Super Bowl, where the Atlanta Falcons met the New England Patriots. She rode onto the field in a golf cart and he was conveyed in his wheelchair as the capacity crowd at Houston’s NRG Stadium welcomed them with a thunderous roar. He performed the ceremonial coin toss and she was able to stand to greet Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

“Thoughts and prayers for the Bush family in the midst of former President George H.W. Bush passing away,” Ryan said in a social media post on Saturday.

The former first couple and presidential parents leave a strong legacy in Georgia. The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy has partnered with programs across Georgia, including the “Talk With Me Baby” early childhood literacy program developed at Emory University, literacy programs in schools serving metro Atlanta, Dublin and Savannah. The Points of Light nonprofit initiative Bush launched after leaving office merged with the HandsOn Network run by Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Democratic U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn and a past U.S. Senate contender.

“He embodied that virtue in a way that’s particularly important at this time,” said Nunn, now president of CARE USA. “He lived a life of personal kindness and generosity, and that spirit was both the driving force of his career – and it embodied the way he lived his daily life.

George H.W. Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts. His first home was on Adams Street, an auspicious address. It was named for the family of President John Adams and President John Quincy Adams, the only other father-son combination to ascend to the nation’s highest office. He was 17 when he met the comely Barbara Pierce, then 16, at country club dance in Greenwich, Connecticut. The future president couldn’t waltz, so he and Barbara talked instead.

With the nation at war, Bush put off Yale University and enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday. He and Barbara were engaged in between flight school and his first commission.

“I love you, precious, with all my heart and to know that you love me means my life,” he wrote to his future bride. “How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours someday. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you.”

One of those children, former President George W. Bush, wrote about the letter and other biographical information in “41: A Portrait of My Father,” published in 2014. The elder Bush wore his Navy dress uniform when he and Barbara married in 1945.

Fifty years later, the couple returned to Sea Island to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. By then, they had left a lasting mark on Georgia. The endowed George H.W. and Barbara P. Bush Professor of Neuroscience at Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine reflects their dedication to that institution. Barbara Bush served as a trustee from 1983 to 1989 and wrote the foreword for “The Morehouse Mystique,” the school’s history.

“He was someone of great wisdom and great compassion,” former Morehouse School of Medicine President Dr. Louis Sullivan said during an interview on Saturday. They met when Bush accepted an invitation to speak at a building dedication at Morehouse School of Medicine. Then-Vice President Bush invited Sullivan to join his delegation during a 1982 trip through sub-Saharan Africa, and Sullivan served as President Bush’s U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services from 1989 to 1993.

Credit: Jennifer Brett

Credit: Jennifer Brett

“He was very supportive of education in general and certainly higher education,” said Sullivan, who visited with Bush and his family just days before he died and plans to attend his funeral. “His demeanor with world leaders was the same as his demeanor with the next-door neighbor. He respected policemen, firemen, air traffic controllers, people in the military. He saw them as heroes. His position was you can differ but still reach out and be friends. Being a political opponent doesn’t mean being an enemy. He was not only a great president but a very decent person in every way.”

AJC political reporter Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.