Former President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday at age 94, was honored Wednesday at a state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral with stories of his bravery in wartime, his compassion and loyalty, and his love of family, friends and country.
George W. Bush, the 43rd president, gave a tearful eulogy of his father, peppered with jokes and personal reminiscences. He said his father taught his children about the importance of public service and how to live a life with grace, humility and kindness.
"He was a genuinely optimistic man," Bush said. "And that optimism guided his children, and made each of us believe that anything was possible."
He added, “To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light,” referring to the phrase popularized by his father when he accepted the presidential nomination at the 1988 Republican National Convention.
Bush said that his father also showed him "what it means to be a president who leads with integrity."
He recalled his father's final moments just days ago. Bush said he called his dad, who was unable to speak at the time, and told him he loved him. "The last words he would say on earth is, 'I love you, too,'" Bush said.
During the final moments of his eulogy, Bush's voice broke and he fought back tears as he imagined his father in Heaven.
"Dad is hugging Robin and holding mom's hand again," he said, referring to George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush's daughter who died in 1953 from leukemia at the age of 3.
Jon Meacham, his biographer, was the first eulogist and told the story of Bush's plane being shot down during World War II and how he was rescued.
"George Herbert Walker Bush was America's last great soldier-statesmen," Meacham said, adding that the former president believed in causes larger than himself. "He believed that to whom much is given, much is expected."
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
Meacham drew laughter from the mourners when he recalled how, on the campaign trail, an over-eager Bush once shook the hand of a department store mannequin as he sought votes. Realizing his mistake, Bush quipped, "Never know, gotta ask."
The biographer described Bush as "a loving man with a big, vibrant all-enveloping heart."
Rev. Dr. Russell Jones Levenson Jr., who was also the former president's pastor, delivered the homily, describing Bush as a uniquely faithful man who always tried to do the right thing and who "changed my life."
"Yes, he was a Republican, but for him, political parties were but a line in the sand to brush away in times of the greater good of working toward his goal for all of us to be that kinder, gentler nation," he said. "Some have said this is an end of an era. But it doesn't have to be. Perhaps this is an invitation to fill the void that has been left behind."
He added, “My hunch is heaven, as perfect it must be, just got a bit kinder and gentler…so, Mr. President, mission complete. Well done, good and faithful servant."
Former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, a eulogist, called Bush "a class act, from birth to death."
Simpson's eulogy of Bush, his former friend, drew laughter and moments of applause from the audience.
"His epitaph perhaps just a single letter, the letter 'L' for loyalty. It coursed through his blood. Loyalty to his country. Loyalty to his family. Loyalty to his friends. Loyalty to the institutions of government,” Simpson said.
Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who served in that position while Bush was president, also eulogized him.
"I believe it will be said that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honorable that George Herbert Walker Bush," he said.
Mulroney, like Meacham, also praised the former president for his working to unify Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, saying it could not have been done without his leadership. And the former Canadian leader credited Bush for implementing landmark legislation, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
"Let me tell you, that when George Bush was President of the United States of America every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman and genuine leader one that was distinguished, resolute and brave," he said.
His body had been lying in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol since Monday evening, where mourners flocked to pay their respects, until the flag-draped casket was taken from the Capitol to cathedral Wednesday morning and arrived just before the start of the service.
Prince Charles of England, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jordan's King Abdullah II were some of the foreign dignitaries slated to attend. About 3,000 people filled the cathedral.
After the funeral service, Air Force One — temporarily renamed "Special Air Mission 41" in honor of the 41st president — will return Bush's body to Texas for burial, where a second private funeral is scheduled to take place.
A motorcade will take Bush's body to Union Pacific Railroad Westfield Auto Facility, where a funeral train will transport the late president's remains to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He'll be laid to rest on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, near his wife, Barbara, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.
The funeral has been precisely choreographed, with down-to-the-second military rituals for the World War II hero. As many as 4,000 military and Defense Department civilian personnel would be involved in some ceremonial, security or logistical capacity.
Bush, himself, gave the Military District of Washington a 211-page document detailing his funeral arrangements. He requested that a "missing man" formation flyover of fighter jets and that the presidential fanfare, "Hail to the Chief," not be performed at his burial.
After Bush was briefed in 2011 about his funeral plans and lying in state, the former president asked, "Do you think anyone will come?" Jim McGrath, who was Bush's spokesman, said on Twitter Tuesday.
Dartunorro Clark is a political reporter for NBC News.