At the end of rows of carefully placed flags along this Houston sidewalk, just outside the metal gates of West Oak Drive South, is a makeshift memorial filled with flowers and teddy bears, honoring a local resident who was, at least to Donna Platt who lives nearby, more than just a president.
“Very nice, we would run into him, and not just me but all the neighbors, in the bank doing his banking business or in the grocery store — he liked to go to the grocery store — and it was just like saying hi to another neighbor,” she told VOA after taking a few pictures to document the memorial for posterity.
Though he was born in New England, the Lone Star State is where George H.W. Bush built an oil business after serving in the Navy during World War II, and where he launched his political career. The final return of the 41st president of the United States to West Texas, which he represented in Congress in the 1960s, and the place he called home over the last three decades, was a bittersweet, bipartisan occasion.
WATCH: Texas Bids President George H.W. Bush Final Farewell
“I feel like it was an historical event,” said Sylvia Epperson, who admitted not voting for him, but nevertheless waited nearly two hours to board a shuttle bus that carried her to St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, where she and thousands more paid final respects to President Bush.
“Only 45 men have been the oresident of the United States so far,” she told VOA. “They are charged with a tremendous task. It is something that should not be taken lightly. And I don’t think President George H.W. Bush took it lightly.”
“A great leader,” said Carl Dry, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Navasota, Texas. “President Bush was and is a veteran of the VFW, and we honor all our veterans.”
Dry was among thousands who braved wet weather to bid a personal farewell to the former commander in chief of the U.S. military.
“A once-in-a-lifetime event as far as I’m concerned,” he told VOA as he awaited one of the more anticipated moments of the Texas ceremonies.
The journey of President Bush’s flag-draped casket through Navasota by train was a rare event, the first such trip in almost 50 years, and attracted large crowds along the railroad tracks.
“Since this is such a great event for our little town,” said Dry, “we felt honored and obligated to come and pay our respects to him and his family.”
It was also the reason 11-year-old Layla Johnson skipped school in Denton, Texas, and traveled to Navasota with her family to be an eyewitness to history, something she admits left her with mixed emotions.
“It’s kind of sad, because people honor him with great respect and he gave us back that respect by working for us,” she said.
President Bush joins his wife, Barbara, and their young daughter Robin who died of Leukemia in 1953 on the grounds of his library and museum in College Station Texas, which is now their final resting place.