WASHINGTON – From a son to a dad, from one president to another, George W. Bush choked back tears Wednesday in eulogizing George H.W. Bush as "the best father a son and daughter could ever have."
While lauding his political career and hailing him as a great president, the younger Bush also focused on the elder's sense of humor, commitment to public service, and extraordinary energy that carried him through 94 years.
"He was born with just two settings – full throttle, then sleep," the 43rd president said of the 41st.
Saying "the idea is to die young as late as possible," Bush celebrated a life that ranged from flying combat missions in World War II at age 20, racing his speed boat Fidelity in in his 80s, and making a parachute jump to mark his 90th birthday.
Joking about George H.W. Bush's game of "speed golf", his son theorized that "he played fast so he could move on to the next event – to enjoy the rest of the day, to expand his enormous energy, to live at all."
The younger Bush's eulogy was another marker in a historic and close relationship, the first father-and-son presidents since John Adams and John Quincy Adams two centuries ago.
George H.W. Bush encouraged his first son to be his own man, and George W. Bush complied by occasionally distancing himself from his less conservative father as they developed separate and competing legacies.
At the same time, the Bushes frequently expressed their love for each other and served as each other's biggest cheerleader.
In his eulogy, the son recalled a man who prayed daily for the soul of 3-year-old daughter Robin after her death of cancer, enjoyed the occasional off-color joke and collected an array of friends who included Bill Clinton, the Democrat who ousted him from office in the 1992 presidential election.
"To his very last days, dad's life was instructive," George W. Bush said in his eulogy, adding that "he showed us how setbacks can strengthen." He talked about his father coped with the passing of wife Barbara Bush this past April.
The younger Bush referenced the fact that people could try his father's patience – "I know I did" – but "he always responded with the great gift of unconditional love."
Historians will be very kind to his one-term presidency, Bush said, citing his father's diplomatic accomplishments in winding down the Cold War. He said George H.W. Bush also taught the world "that public service is noble and necessary."
In joking about how his father could laugh about himself, George W. Bush cited some of his father's greatest hits.
"To us, he was close to perfect – but not totally perfect," the younger Bush said. "His short game was lousy. He wasn't exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor. The man couldn't stomach vegetables ... especially broccoli."
He added: "And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us."
When his father moved the family to Midland, Texas, to enter the oil business, he kept his balance, Bush said.
"He was a tolerant man, after all," Bush said. "He was kind and neighborly to the women with whom he, mom and I shared a bathroom in our small duplex even after he learned their profession: Ladies of the night."
Referencing his father’s program to promote volunteerism, the son said he was “the brightest of a thousand points of light.”
George H.W. Bush was also a man who stayed active until his dying day. Beyond the speed boating and parachuting, the younger Bush said his father once enjoyed a Grey Goose vodka that long-time friend James Baker managed to smuggle into his hospital room.
"Apparently, it paired well with the steak Baker had delivered from Morton's," Bush said.
On his father's last day, George W. Bush said he called the hospital to say, "'Dad, I love you and you've been a wonderful father.'"
He added: "And the last words he would ever say on earth were, 'I love you, too.'"
The sadness is tempered by thoughts that George H.W. Bush is now in a better place, his son said.
"In our grief," the son said, "let us smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again," Bush said.