12 Honest and Hopeful Quotes From Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush

The 41st president of the United States on freedom, service, purpose and more.


5 min read


This story has been updated.

George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President, has died at the age of 94.

Bush was the only person ever to have served as vice president of the United States for eight years (1981 to 1989), followed by a four-year term as president (1989 to 1993).

Born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Mass., Bush served as a U.S. Navy pilot during WWII, completing 58 combat missions, including one in which his plane was shot down. He was rescued by a submarine near the Japanese Island of Chichijima. When he returned from the war, he attended Yale University and met his wife, the late First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush, to whom he was married for 73 years until her death in April 2018.

Barbara and George Sr. had six children, among them, of course, the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, as well as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

Bush’s father, Prescott, was a U.S. Senator, and he followed in those footsteps, first serving as a Texas Representative to Congress, followed by United Nations Ambassador, Republican National Committee Chairman and C.I.A. director. From there, Bush ran for president in 1980, losing the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan but becoming his running mate and ultimately VP.

Related: 11 Quotes on Life and Love From Former First Lady Barbara Bush

Highlights of Bush’s four-year presidency include the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act and Desert Storm. 

Many of Bush’s public addresses during his presidency touched on themes of freedom and the triumph of democracy at the end of the 20th century. Bush himself admitted many Americans perceived him as out of touch with regard to their daily struggles, and voters did not reelect him in 1992.

After his time in office, Bush remained active in public service. He also faced public scrutiny recently — several women came forward with claims that the former president improperly touched them. Bush’s spokesman released a statement saying that “on occasion, [Bush] has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner” and apologized to “anyone he has offended.”

Read on for 12 memorable quotes from Bush 41.

On unity and diversity
“ …a brilliant diversity spreads like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” (From his address accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention, August 1988)

“I take as my guide the hope of a saint: In crucial things, unity; in important things, diversity; in all things, generosity.” (From his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1989)

“The world must know and understand: From this hour, from this day, from this hall, we step forth with a new sense of purpose, a new sense of possibilities. We stand together, prepared to swim upstream, to march uphill, to tackle the tough challenges as they come.” (From an address to the United Nations on Oct. 1, 1990)

On ambition
“I was offered a job on Wall Street by my uncle. But I wanted to get out. Make-it-on-my-own kinda thing.” (From a 2010 Esquire interview)

On perspective
“I did my job as president, I just didn’t expose my inner feelings … I’ve got a whole rationale of reasons of why I did not get reelected. But maybe, if I’d have been a little more emotional or more revealing of the person, why, maybe it ought to have helped … no regrets about anything. No regrets about one single thing in my life, that I can think of. I mean, I’ve made mistakes, but they don’t measure up to regrets now. (From a 1999 interview with Larry King)

“When I was a little guy, I’d fear death. I’d worry about it. Be scared. Not anymore.”

“You get to be 88, you were president of the United States and now you’re known for your socks.” (Both from a 2012 interview with Diane Sawyer)

On compromise
“I have opinions of my own — strong opinions — but I don’t always agree with them.” (Quoted in Spin magazine, 1992 — original date unknown)

“I’ll be glad to reply to or dodge your questions, depending on what I think will help our election most.” (Speaking to reporters in 1980)

Related: 50 Inspirational Quotes to Motivate You

On challenges
“Even in the midst of celebration, we must keep caution as a friend. For the world is still a dangerous place. Only the dead have seen the end of conflict. And though yesterday’s challenges are behind us, tomorrow’s are being born.” (From his 1992 State of the Union Address)

On service
“There could be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others. Find something to do. Get off the bench. Don’t sit there whining, sucking your thumb, get in the game.” (At a 2011 ceremony to honor former President Ronald Reagan with the George Bush Award For Excellence In Public Service)

On self-awareness and empathy
“I may not be the most eloquent, but I learned early that eloquence won’t draw oil from the ground. I may sometimes be a little awkward, but there’s nothing self-conscious in my love of country. I am a quiet man — but I hear the quiet people others don’t.” (From his address accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention, August 1988)

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