George H.W. Bush's Pastor Describes Former President's Final Hours: 'A Beautiful End'

Diane Herbst
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George H.W. Bush's Pastor Describes Former President's Final Hours: 'A Beautiful End'

George H.W. Bush's Pastor Describes Former President's Final Hours

As night fell on Nov. 30 and George H.W. Bush appeared to be slipping, James Baker III, Bush’s best friend and former Secretary of State, and his wife returned to the former president’s Houston home for a third visit that day.

“Secretary Baker was at the foot of the president’s bed and toward the end, Jim Baker rubbed and stroked the president’s feet—for perhaps half an hour,” longtime Bush family pastor, Reverend Dr. Russell Levenson, Jr. recounted Wednesday during his eulogy at a state funeral in the National Cathedral.

Baker, sitting in a pew next to his wife, lowered his head and sobbed.

“The president smiled at the comfort of his dear friend,” Levenson said. “Here I witnessed a world leader who was serving a servant who had been our world’s leader.”

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Former secretary of state James A. Baker III, center, cries at best friend's funeral.

Bush had been enveloped in comfort during his last hours — from family, other dear friends and his service dog Sully, Levenson recounted. Bush and Baker were especially close.

“Sitting with us is someone the president liked to call his little brother, James Baker, and his wife Susan,” Levenson said. “There had been wonderful hugs and kind words throughout the day, kisses throughout the day.

“His members of his family called in, who spoke with him throughout the day,” he recalled, “… inspired his last words, words of love.”

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As Bush’s final minutes neared, Levenson led those surrounding the president in his bedroom — including Bush’s doctors and family members — in prayer.

“At the end, we all knelt,” he recalled. “We all placed our hands on the president. We said our prayers together. And then we were silent for a full long measure as this man, who changed all of our lives, who changed our nation — it was a beautiful end.”

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Levenson added, “It was a beautiful beginning. For a moment, but a moment only, that dear point of light we know as George Herbert Walker Bush dimmed, but it now shines brighter than it ever before has. … Heaven just got a bit kinder and gentler.”