George H.W. Bush

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Presidential Roles
Role Models
George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, has been recognized as the father of the modern service movement. In his 1989 Inaugural Address he envisioned "a thousand points of light" and identified philanthropy and the civil society sector as vital parts of the fabric of the United States and of democracy. children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives.

Biographical Highlights

Coming from a family with a tradition of public service, George Herbert Walker Bush wanted to give of his time and talents to his country.  He has served his country and the world in many capacities: in the armed forces, the U.S. House of Representatives, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Chief of the U. S. Liaison Office in the People's Republic of China, Director of Central Intelligence, Vice President under President Ronald Reagan and as the 41st President of the United States. He continues to serve by raising millions of dollars for charity and in relief efforts in response to natural disasters. 
Historic Roots
George H. W. Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924, and on his 18th birthday, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the armed forces.  The youngest pilot in the Navy, he flew 58 combat missions during World War II.  He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action. He served until the end of the war.
Soon after his discharge, he married Barbara Pierce and then went on to graduate from Yale University with a degree in economics.  He and Barbara Bush moved to Texas and raised six children (George, Robin (who died as a child), John (known as Jeb), Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy). He became a millionaire in the oil industry by age 40.
As a young man, Bush became involved in public service and politics.  His career in public service began in 1963, when he was elected chairman of the Harris County (Texas) Republican Party.  He was elected in 1966 to the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas' Seventh District and served two terms. Before serving as vice president from 1981 to 1989, President Bush held a number of senior-level positions.
In 1980 Bush campaigned for the Republican nomination for president. He lost, but was chosen as a running mate by Ronald Reagan and served two terms as vice-president. In 1988 Bush won the Republican nomination for president and was elected in the face of a dramatically changing world: the Cold War had ended after 40 years, the Communist empire had broken up, and the Berlin Wall had fallen. Cynicism about politics and interest-group identification had combined to undermine the strength of democratic culture. Among college students, the levels of “disengagement” had steadily increased since the 1970s. The percentage of young people under 29 years of age who voted in presidential elections had dropped consistently from the early 1970s to the time of Bush’s election. The atmosphere of resentment and disengagement threatened to destroy the civic engagement and compromise that sustain democracy. (Elhstain, 1997)
Bush celebrated the emerging democracies, and also challenged the people of the United States to enhance its own democracy through renewed service and civic engagement.  George H. W. Bush brought to the White House a dedication to traditional American values and a determination to engage the country in becoming "a force for good."  In his 1989 Inaugural Address, President Bush called on Americans to engage in hands-on, active service to their country and communities.
He called the individuals and groups doing this kind of work “points of light.”
"We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light...We all have something to give."  
While in office, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act — landmark civil rights and environmental legislation.  He also successfully fought for and negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was later signed into law. 
“We're here to rejoice in and celebrate another ‘independence day,’ one that is long overdue.  With today's signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.  As I look around at all these joyous faces, I remember clearly how many years of dedicated commitment have gone into making this historic new civil rights act a reality.”
Remarks at the Signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act
July 26, 1990
In August of 1990, Iraq invaded its oil-rich neighbor to the south, Kuwait.  Bush condemned the invasion, the US Congress authorized air and land attacks, and in January 1991 allied forces launched the first attack. The United Nations coalition forces liberated Kuwait and advanced into Iraqi territory.  A cease-fire was declared 100 hours after the ground campaign started.  Aerial and ground combat was confined to Iraq, Kuwait, and areas on the border of Saudi Arabia.
After one term in office, Bush lost his bid for re-election to Democrat William Clinton in 1992.
Since leaving office, President Bush has taken an active role in The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, and the George Bush School of Government and Public Service, both located on the campus of Texas A&M University.
On February 15, 2011 President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor in the USA – to President George H. W. Bush.  
As wife of the Vice President Bush, Barbara Bush selected literacy as her special cause.  As First Lady, she called working for a more literate America the "most important issue we have."  Involved with many organizations devoted to this cause, she became Honorary Chairman of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.  As a strong advocate of volunteerism, Mrs. Bush helped many causes, including the homeless, AIDS, the elderly, and school volunteer programs.  Barbara Bush continues her service today by serving on the Boards of AmeriCares and the Mayo Clinic, and continuing to support literacy through her prominent role in the Barbara Bush Foundation.
In March 2011, Points of Light Institute and former Presidents James E. Carter, Jr., William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush plan to come together for the Points of Light Institute Tribute honoring President and Mrs. George H. W. Bush for their leadership in founding and advancing the modern-day service movement, and to celebrate the power of voluntary action and its essential role in solving our national challenges.
The Bushes presently reside in Houston, Texas, and Kennebunkport, Maine.
From Navy hero to commander in chief, public service has defined George H. W. Bush’s life. George H. W. Bush brought to the White House a dedication to traditional American values and a determination to engage the country in becoming "a force for good."  In his Inaugural Address, President Bush called on Americans to engage in hands-on, active service to their country and communities.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
President Bush has helped to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for charity.  He is active on the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors, serves with Mrs. Bush as Honorary Co-Chair of C-Change; and is honorary chairman of the Points of Light Institute.
At the request of his son, President George W. Bush, President George H. W. Bush worked with President Bill Clinton to help raise funds to aid in the relief efforts following the catastrophic tsunami in Southeast Asia and Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast states.  In 2006, President George H. W. Bush served as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for the South Asia earthquake.  Following the destruction caused by Hurricane Ike on the Gulf Coast in September of 2008, President Bush again joined with President Clinton to form the Bush-Clinton Gulf Coast Recovery Fund to aid in the reconstruction of Gulf Coast infrastructure.
Key Related Ideas
Civic Engagement
Disaster Relief
Human Rights
Important People Related to the Topic
Barbara Bush: wife of George H.W. Bush, mother of George W. Bush the 43rd President of the U.S.
Neil Bush: the third of five children of President George H. W. and Mrs. Barbara Bush. This former governor of the State of Florida is Chair of the Points of Light Board.
Related Nonprofit Organizations
In response to President Bush’s call to action, the Points of Light Foundation was created in 1990 as an independent, non-partisan, nonprofit organization to encourage and empower the spirit of service.
George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy
Bibliography and Internet Sources
The White House Presidential Biographies
Points of Light Institute 
Elshtain, Jean Bethke. 1997. “The Decline of Democratic Faith.” Experiencing Citizenship: Concepts and Models for Service-learning in Political Science, ed. by Richard M. Battistoni and William E. Hudson. Washington, D.C.: American Association for HigherEducation.