Richard Nixon was president when I was born, which I'm embarrassed to say I didn't realize that until today, because I never stopped to do the math. Gerald Ford came a year after I was born. Jimmy Carter was the first one I actually remember. Ronald Reagan was president most of my childhood. George H. W. Bush was elected my sophomore year of high school, so he's the first one that I knew in the context of learning about government and politics. I remember thinking at the time that it just seemed natural for a vice president to go on to president. I was sad to hear of his passing this weekend.
Presidents are first-hand witnesses to an extraordinary amount of history, but Bush might have seen the most, relative to a single term. The end of the cold war and the Soviet Union were extraordinary on their own, but then add in the invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War. I also remember his leadership around getting the ADA passed, and his environmental concerns. The importance of volunteerism that he talked about also stuck with me. He was very moderate in retrospect, and his many philanthropic partnerships with Bill Clinton after his presidency make it clear that he was a man of solid character.
I'm a lot more politically aware than I used to be. I imagine that I would be fairly split on Bush's policy today, but he still represented what a president is supposed to be: A voice of leadership and hope even in difficult times. As much as I didn't care for Bush's son's horrible foreign policy, he was the person we needed for 9/11. It's incredible, how important a president's words are, even if their policy has less obvious effects.
My thoughts are with the Bush family. "Poppy" had an extraordinary life.