COLLEGE STATION — President George H.W. Bush was not a native Texan. And he was a graduate of Yale.
But he fell in love with much about his adopted home state – and at the top of the list of things he cherished most is Texas A&M University.
“I’m proud to be an Aggie,” he said in a tribute video released by Texas A&M.
“A&M is all about pride, patriotism, faith, family, loyalty, respect – all the corny things that sometimes people make fun of - here they matter,” said Mark Welsh, dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service on the Texas A&M University campus.
“He was that way. So, I think the connection was almost instant. He found thousands of kindred spirits here in Aggieland, and the place embraced him as much as he embraced it.”
Bush was also deeply fond of Texas A&M’s strong military tradition and its renowned Corps of Cadets.
The love affair between A&M and Mr. Bush was evident Wednesday, as thousands of students climbed to the top of parking garages and stood on light poles or in the bed of pickup trucks just to catch a glimpse of the plane that carried Bush’s body from Washington to Houston.
“Special Air Mission 41” performed a flyover of part of the Texas A&M campus, making a turn to circle the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Students stood silent as it appeared overhead and began to quietly applaud as it flew away.
Bush spoke at Texas A&M’s 1984 spring commencement as vice president and gave the crowd a signature “Gig ‘em.”
In the early 1990s, he chose Texas A&M over Rice and Yale to house his presidential library and museum.
Part of the allure of Texas A&M was the offer of a school of government in his name that would emphasize public service.
Welsh is now dean of the school. It opened in 1997, just months before the opening of the Bush Library and Museum.
“The Bush School of Government and Public Service is all about him. He is in the DNA. He gave us values, he gave us a mission, he gave us an example,” Welsh said. “The Bush School is about producing men and women to go out and serve their fellow citizens and do it with the same kind of principled leadership and values he demonstrated throughout his career.”
“He believed that the school – he told me this personally three or four times – is his living legacy because these are the men and women who will go on to do the kind of service he was so proud of doing himself.”
After the school and library complex opened, George and Barbara Bush became mainstays at Texas A&M. The library complex included an apartment, so the two truly were at home on campus.
Before his health began failing, he would appear randomly in various places – the student rec center, football and baseball games and even in classes.
Welsh said one class at the Bush School was planning a simulation of a National Security Council briefing, expecting to see a simulated president, but “the President was sitting there! Which had to be a little intimidating, but what an experience.”
Danielle Eastman chose A&M for her undergraduate degree because of the possibility of attending the Bush School for graduate studies. She’s a first-year grad student, so she only saw Bush in his later years.
“I heard he was going to be on campus, but I knew I wasn’t on any sort of list to be invited,” she recalled. “I dressed up really nice and thought - I’m just going to see how close I can get.”
“A few minutes later 41 came out with Sean Hannity wheeling him and he waved to us and a few minutes later 43 came out and said good morning and thanks for being here. A really neat, rare opportunity to get to interact with them, brief as it was.”
She plans to build a career in public service in some respect.
“Is there a better person to learn from how to serve people?” she said of Bush. “It’s an honor and a privilege.”