WASHINGTON—The nation's capital embraced George H.W. Bush in death with solemn ceremony and high tributes to his service and decency, as the remains of the 41st president took their place in the Capitol Rotunda for three days of mourning and praise by the political elite and everyday citizens alike.
Members of the public lined up before sunrise to pay their respects as an honour guard stood watch beside Bush's casket in the cavernous Rotunda, open until tomorrow's funeral.
With Bush's casket atop the Lincoln Catafalque, first used for Abraham Lincoln's 1865 funeral, dignitaries came forward yesterday to honour the Texan whose efforts for his country extended three-quarters of a century from World War II through his final years as an advocate for volunteerism and relief for people displaced by natural disaster.
President from 1989-93, Bush died Friday at age 94.
In an invocation opening yesterday evening's ceremony, the U.S. House chaplain, the Rev. Patrick J Conroy, praised Bush's commitment to public service—from Navy pilot to congressman, U.N. ambassador, envoy to China, and then CIA director before being elected vice-president and then president.
“Here lies a great man and a gentle soul,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, the House speaker.
“His legacy is grace perfected.”
Vice-President Mike Pence and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also spoke. President Donald Trump did not attend, but he and first lady Melania Trump came to the Capitol later yesterday to pay tribute.
They stood in front of the casket with their eyes closed for a few moments before Trump saluted the casket.
Political combatants set aside their fights to honour a Republican who led in a less-toxic era and at times found commonality with Democrats despite sharp policy disagreements.
Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a past House speaker nominated for the post in the new Congress, exchanged a warm hug with George W. Bush and came away dabbing her face.
Bush himself seemed to be holding back tears.
Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, placed wreaths in the short ceremony before the rotunda was opened to the public.
Bush will lie in state in the Capitol for public visitation through tomorrow.
An invitation-only funeral service, which the Trumps will attend, then is set to be held at Washington National Cathedral.