'A great and noble man': Washington says final farewell to George HW Bush

Thousands of current and former politicians gathered to pay a final tribute to former President George H.W. Bush at a state funeral service Wednesday. 

Family members, former colleagues and friends recalled the 41st president as a devoted public servant with a keen sense of humor and love for his family.

"When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States, a diplomat of unmatched skill, a commander in chief of formidable accomplishment, and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor," former President George W. Bush said in a eulogy for his father.

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George W. Bush, who remained composed for most of the tribute, broke down toward the end of his speech as he described his dad as "a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter could have."

Bush died Friday at age 94. The former president had also served as vice president, CIA director, ambassador to the United Nations, a member of Congress and as a naval aviator during World War II. 

Wednesday’s services, the first state funeral since former President Gerald Ford died in 2006, brought together politicians from across administrations, across political lines and across the globe.

The service also marked the rare occasion in which all living presidents and first ladies were in the same room. Barack and Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaThe Hill's Morning Report — Category 5 Mueller storm to hit today Warren praises Ocasio-Cortez in Time 100 Beyoncé in 'Time 100' profile: Michelle Obama empowers black Americans MORE, Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Former Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' Seth Rich's brother calls for those pushing conspiracy to 'take responsibility' MORE, and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were all seated in the front row of the National Cathedral, where they were seen exchanging pleasantries and laughs.

The mood shifted when President TrumpDonald John TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll MORE and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpA Trump visit to Africa is important — and carries some urgency The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Trump to visit Japan in May to meet with Abe, new emperor MORE arrived. The first lady shook hands with the Obamas and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Mueller makes clear: Congress must investigate whether Trump obstructed justice Trump team spurns Adam Smith with its trade stance MORE and gave a wave to the rest of the aisle. The president shook hands with the Obamas after taking his seat.

Images of the Trumps, Obamas, Clintons and Carters staring straight ahead quickly made the rounds on the internet.

Trump has had a strained relationship with his predecessors, each of whom he has publicly criticized. He defeated Hillary Clinton in the bitterly fought 2016 election and spread conspiracy theories that Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFormer Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems face tricky balancing act after Mueller report Grassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump MORE was not born in the U.S.

Despite the awkwardness among those seated in the front row, the service remained focused on Bush’s legacy of service and was largely celebratory.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and presidential historian Jon Meacham joined George W. Bush in delivering tributes to the 41st president that highlighted his military service during World War II, his diplomatic and domestic accomplishments and his relationships outside the Oval Office.

Each speaker peppered their speeches with light-hearted anecdotes. George W. Bush recalled that his father hated vegetables, was a poor dancer and "had a lousy short game" on the golf course.

Simpson lamented that Bush's one serious flaw was that "he could never, ever remember a punchline."

"So the punchline for George Herbert Walker Bush is this: You would've wanted him on your side," Simpson said, describing him as a "class act."

Mulroney, whose time as Canada's prime minister overlapped with Bush's time as vice president and president, cited the former president's numerous foreign and domestic accomplishments. He praised Bush for his handling of the end of the Cold War and the Gulf War, and for overseeing the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act.

"There’s a word for this," Mulroney said. "It’s called leadership. And let me tell you that when George Bush was president of the United States of America, every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader. One who was distinguished, resolute and brave.”

Following the roughly two hour service, Bush's casket was carried to a hearse and taken to Joint Base Andrews. His remains were loaded onto Air Force One and departed the nation's capital a final time in preparation for his burial on Thursday in Texas.