A story about President Bush and his first lady, Barbara gets a rousing laugh from family and friends in attendance.
WASHINGTON – Amid the hymns, prayers, tears and tributes for George H.W. Bush at his state funeral Wednesday, there was also plenty of laughter.
That’s befitting of a man who loved to laugh, especially at himself, as his son recounted.
“He placed great value on a good joke,” former President George W. Bush said during his eulogy. “That’s why he chose (Alan) Simpson to speak.”
The former senator from Wyoming, known for his sense of humor, had the mourners who filled Washington National Cathedral chuckling as he told stories about singing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” with Bush after attending a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs with the president.
“A few days later, he’s getting hammered by the press for some extraordinarily pithy bit of trivia, and suddenly he sings out, ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina,'” Simpson recalled. “The press then wrote that he was finally losing his marbles.”
Simpson also added a bit of humor to a serious anecdote about Bush agreeing to a budget deal, knowing it would hurt him politically because it went against his pledge to not raise taxes. Bush said that on the tough choices, he had to think about his country before his party.
“He was a man of such great humility,” Simpson said, adding, “Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic.”
Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada, who was close to Bush, recounted Bush’s first NATO meeting as president where he took copious notes. Even after the leaders of Great Britain and Germany had spoken, Bush continued to write – and write and write – as the prime minister of Iceland droned on until the NATO secretary general called for a coffee break.
Bush put down his pen and walked over to Mulroney, telling him he’d just learned the fundamental principle of international affairs: The smaller the country, the longer the speech.
“George Bush was a man of high accomplishment,” Mulroney said, “and he also had a delightful sense of humor and was a lot of fun.”
When Bush was kidded for mistakenly grabbing the hand of a department store mannequin while courting voters in New Hampshire, he had a ready comeback.
“Never know. Got to ask,” Bush said.
“You can hear the voice, can’t you?” biographer Jon Meacham said of Bush’s unique patter of East Coast-raised patrician-speak mixed with a fear of self-aggrandizement. “As Dana Carvey said, the key to a Bush 41 impersonation is Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.”
Bush knew that public speaking wasn’t his forte, Meacham noted. He repeated some signature Bush lines, including: “We’re enjoying sluggish times, but we’re not enjoying them very much.”
Besides laughing at himself when he was unintentionally funny, Bush had a circle of friends with whom he shared humor by email. George W. Bush described his father’s rating system for the quality of the jokes as “classic George Bush.”
“The rare sevens and eights were considered huge winners,” he said, “most of them off-color.”
But while Bush loved a good joke – throwing his head back and giving a great laugh – he could never remember a punchline, Simpson said.
“And I mean never,” he added.
“So the punchline for George Herbert Walker Bush is this,” Simpson said. “He never lost his sense of humor. Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life. That’s what humor is.”
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