Houston residents, by the thousands, mourn President George H.W. Bush

By Liz Hampton

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Thousands of Houstonians turned up on Thursday to pay their respects to late President George H.W. Bush, a U.S. Northeast transplant who had made Texas his home, laying flowers at makeshift memorials and lining up to catch a glimpse of his funeral motorcade.

Along with his wife Barbara, who died in April, the late president had embraced the city that became their home in 1958. Bush ran energy businesses from Houston, and in 1966, was elected to U.S. Congress as a Republican.

Area residents and business leaders returned the esteem over the years, and again, in events across the city this week. The couple have local schools that bear their names, and the main airport in 1997 was renamed after the former president.

Bush once handed a pair of presidential cufflinks to clothing store owner Michael Wiesenthal, whose shop Bush frequented. Wiesenthal, who wore the cufflinks to the funeral, called Bush "just regular people."

Andre Scott, a member of the St. Martin's Episcopal Church choir who sang during services on Thursday, said Bush took an interest in people he met and left a legacy of service.

"He had a great love of doing things for the common good," said Scott.

Overnight, more than 11,600 residents, some of whom had waited since early Wednesday to catch shuttle buses, visited the church where Bush's body lay in repose to view his flag-draped casket. Makeshift memorials sprang up over the weekend across the city.

Politicians such as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and players and officials of local sports teams were present on Wednesday when the presidential jet returned Bush's remains to Texas, and local business executives attended his Houston funeral services.

"He chose to live in our city and we were better for it," said Mayor Turner on Thursday. "We will always remain grateful for his kindness, leadership and service."

The late president "always had time for everyone and every charitable good cause," said Jim McIngvale, a Houston businessman. "It didn't matter to him whether you were the parking valet or a million dollar donor."

Bush and Barbara were avid sports fans and regular fixtures behind home plate at Houston Astros games. Attending his funeral were current and former professional team players.

"Any time we asked George to come, he'd always show up at the ballpark with a smile on his face," said Jim Crane, owner of the Houston Astros major league baseball team, as he entered St. Martin's.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton; writing by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Bernadette Baum)