WASHINGTON – The White House had a visit from an old tenant Monday.
President Barack Obama paid tribute to former President George H.W. Bush and helped hand out the 5,000th Daily Points of Light Award. Bush began the program 24 years ago during his presidency to highlight people performing community service.
The award’s name was a nod to remarks Bush made during his 1988 presidential nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
The United States,he said,was “a brilliant diversity spread like stars,like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”
In the packed East Room,Obama spoke about Bush’s service and energy since leaving the Oval Office.
“He kept going,” Obama said,“Which should come as no surprise,since we’re talking about somebody who has served his country in such extraordinary ways.
“And when you do a parachute jump at the age of 85,” he said,giving a nod to one of Bush’s more extraordinary post-presidential activities,“Not just a parachute jump,but another parachute jump … this is somebody who’s not going to slow down any time soon.”
Obama,who has become friendlier with the Bushes in his second term of office,spoke warmly of the elder Bush in front of a standing room only crowd.
“Let me just say that we are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you,and we can’t thank you enough,” Obama said,looking over at the former president.
In a wheelchair,Bush,now 89,looked frail but moved by the president’s remarks.
Sitting with his pant legs hiked up,the former president sported a bright – if mismatched – pair of candy striped socks.
Bush spoke briefly,mainly to introduce his son,Neil Bush,who now chairs the Points of Light organization.
“It’s like coming home for Barbara and me with the rest of you just coming to this magnificent house and being greeted by this superb hospitality – knows no bounds. So thank you all very much. Now,Neil,” the former president said.
Neil Bush struggled at times to hold back tears.
“You and Mom have lived incredibly meaningful and adventurous lives,” Bush said. “Thank you for inspiring so many to become points of light.
“That’s an applause line,” he said after a quiet beat,adding some levity before things threatened to get too emotional.
First lady Michelle Obama,former first lady Barbara Bush and Jill Biden,the wife of the vice president sat together in the front row during the ceremony.
The 5,000th award winners are a retired couple,Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton,who began a non-profit in Union,Iowa,that provides meals,clean water,medical care and education to children in need in the U.S. and around the world.
The two were set to sail the world in retirement,Obama said,until a trip to impoverished Tanzania inspired them to spend their new freedom helping others,instead.
Since founding their nonprofit,Outreach,in 2004,they have provided more than 233 million meals.
Obama announced a new task force to “take a fresh look at how we can better support national service,” which he said includes improving schools,disaster recovery and child mentoring.
“In times of tight budgets and some very tough problems,” Obama said,“we know that the greatest resource we have is the limitless energy and ingenuity of our citizens.”
Reach reporter Memet Walker at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFwire.