'Among the greatest heroes of the American Century’: Utah leaders remember George H. W. Bush

FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2011 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney meets with former President George H.W. Bush in Houston. The former president plans to endorse Mitt Romney, further urging the Republican Party to coalesce around the former Massachusetts governor's presidential campaign. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Washington • Utah’s political leaders paid tribute Saturday to former President George H.W. Bush, who died late Friday at age 94.

The World War II aviator who served as a congressman, CIA director and U.N. ambassador and presided over the final days of the Soviet Union, was a statesman who brought out the good in people, the Utah political figures said.

“No one stood taller than George H.W. Bush, a giant among men,” tweeted Sen.-elect Mitt Romney, R-Utah. “Hero in war, servant in the halls of state, and president of the greatest nation on earth.”

Romney and Bush were close, and the senator-elect noted Saturday how much he appreciated Bush’s contributions. When Romney first ran for president in 2008, Bush offered up his presidential library in Texas for the candidate to speak about how his faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would influence his politics.

Romney said that he and his wife, Ann, have been “enormously blessed by President Bush’s counsel, generosity & friendship. We have laughed together at his & Barbara’s table & discussed the course of the nation at his library. Every encounter with George H.W. Bush impressed us with both his wisdom & his wit.”

Longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who worked closely with the elder Bush’s administration, said that the former president was “among the greatest heroes of the American Century.”

“The breadth and depth of his service are without parallel,” Hatch tweeted. “Before rising to the highest office in the land, he was a decorated Navy pilot, a congressman from the state of Texas, an ambassador to the United Nations, a CIA director, and of course, the vice president of the United States. He was the man who pulled back the Iron Curtain, shining the warm sunlight of freedom where freedom had grown cold. His influence — in global affairs, in American domestic policy, and in our hearts — cannot be overstated.

“Today,” Hatch continued, “we mourn the passing of one of the finest gentlemen I ever knew. May our 41st president rest in peace with his beloved Barbara."

(Photo courtesy Sen. Orrin Hatch's office.) Vice President George H. W. Bush swears in Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch for a second term in office on Jan. 3, 1983.

Bush’s wife, Barbara, died in April.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called Bush a “man of the highest character” and heralded him for dedicating his life to serving his country.

“His grace and wisdom will be sorely missed,” Lee said.

In 1989, The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performed for Bush at his inauguration at the U.S. Capitol.

Top leaders of the LDS Church on Saturday said they were grateful for Bush’s life and service to the country.

“We honor him as a devoted husband, father and grandfather, a man of deep conviction who dedication his life in service to country, family and faith,” the governing First Presidency said in a statement. “We express our love to the Bush family. We have been blessed by his legacy of service and devotion, and we pray they will be granted God’s peace as they remember and celebrate his remarkable life.”

(Tribune file photo) Former president George H. W. Bush visits with Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Gordon B. Hinckley prior to the 100th anniversary observance at Southern Utah University on May 2, 1997.

Bush visited Utah several times, including swooping into the state to publicly kick off then-Sen. Bob Bennett’s re-election campaign in 1998.

“Our family spent the day with him and with Barbara, and he couldn’t have been more gracious and kind,” recalls Jim Bennett, a son of the late senator. “In the final senatorial debate of the 2010 election, my father cited George H. W. Bush as the politician he admired more than any other, and it’s easy to see why. Whether or not you agreed with him, it was impossible to deny that he was an honorable and decent human being.”

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said she was mourning Bush's death but celebrating his life.

“He devoted his life to serving this nation in so many ways, and we are very grateful for his leadership and service,” Love said. “Sending prayers and condolences to his family.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the former president will be “sorely missed.” Herbert ordered the U.S. and Utah flags lowered to half-staff for the next 30 days in remembrance of Bush, though on Wednesday they will be lowered for the funeral of South Salt Lake police officer David Romrell. He was hit and killed by a car Nov. 24.

Bush "was a great example, the patriarch of our country, and a devoted servant to all,” Herbert tweeted. “He was loved and respected by everyone. He was a man of great character and integrity.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said he was saddened to hear of Bush’s death but was "grateful for his patriotism and long life of service. I’ve always held him up as an example of statesmanship that I hoped to follow.”

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, also showered praise on Bush.

“We lost a great American today,” the congressman tweeted, noting he and his wife, Sue, send their best wishes to the Bush family. Curtis added a tribute to the former president, who was the 41st American commander in chief.

“Godspeed 41,” Curtis said.