The passing of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, who was eulogized last week after 94 years on this earth, was an emotional moment for many across the U.S. and around the world.
It reminded us of a much different time that, while it seems so, was really was not all that long ago.
H.W., as he was referred to, was a statesman – a man of great character, who seemed to consistently put the good of the nation above himself.
During his presidency, he spoke of America becoming “a kinder, gentler nation.” Such a place we long for today.
At the time, the president looked at where the nation was headed, and almost prophetically spoke of how to best solve the issues we would face.
“There are no magic solutions to our problems,” he said. “The real answer lies within us. We need to all pitch in… and do our part to help forge a brighter future for our country,” he said.
And so, he did something to help forge that future. In 1990, he unveiled his concept of the 1000 Points of Light, to promote the good, the virtuous and the special acts of kindness in our nation, and to promote private, non-governmental solutions to social issues. It was meant to highlight ordinary people making an extraordinary difference.
In 1991, my friend Harold Reynolds (H.R.), then an All-Star second baseman for the Seattle Mariners, became the first athlete selected by President Bush to receive Point of Light recognition. I was honored to accompany Harold to the White House for the ceremony.
I still vividly recall the aftermath of the meeting, as Harold talked about the president’s kindness.
Harold, now an Emmy Award winning studio talent for the MLB Network, is still a point of light. Still committed to making a difference in the lives of others. Bush was a fan, for sure, of Harold’s and of the game. He had played first base at Yale and dreamt of becoming a big leaguer. Yet, duty called, and he went to serve our nation, first in the military, and then in a less friendly game – politics.
Through it all, the president was a gentleman who knew goodness because he was good.
His 1000 Points of Light have been carried on by his son, Neil. However, as a nation it seems our ability to see those points of light has grown dimmer by the year.
The ensuing elections since H.W. largely became more about style over substance. What a man or woman was made of became less important to much of the public than the image they presented. We have become more divisive, siloed and angry as a people.
And so, many found themselves last week staring wistfully at a casket lying in state, wishing the clock could be turned back.
Yet, we can return to the ways of better days. By each of us “doing our part,” we can become new points of light for a nation that desperately needs more, and for emerging generations looking for someone to illuminate their path.
To do so requires one seismic shift for each of us.
To follow in the footsteps of people of great character like H.W. and H.R. means caring less about ourselves and more about each other. To elevate the needs of others above our own wants.
If we choose to do so, we can forge our way to a kinder and gentler nation, and a brighter future.
As George Herbert Walker Bush knew, it starts with you and me.