'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 ObamaContest offers 'Broadway play and chardonnay' with Clinton Michelle Obama greets students at Detroit Motown Museum during surprise visit Michelle Obama: People questioning whether I could be first lady 'doesn't go away' MORE, Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCohen once teased Hillary Clinton about going to prison. Now he's been sentenced to 36 months The Hill's 12:30 Report — Cohen gets three years in prison | Fallout from Oval Office clash | House GOP eyes vote on B for wall Contest offers 'Broadway play and chardonnay' with Clinton 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 TrumpActivists highlight Trump ties to foreign autocrats in hotel light display Jose Canseco pitches Trump for chief of staff: ‘Worried about you looking more like a Twinkie everyday’ Dershowitz: Mueller's report will contain 'sins' but no 'impeachable offense' MORE and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Cohen gets three years in prison | Fallout from Oval Office clash | House GOP eyes vote on B for wall First lady, Santa hand out 'Be Best' gear at Toys for Tots event The Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? MORE arrived. The first lady shook hands with the Obamas and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonContest offers 'Broadway play and chardonnay' with Clinton Jared Kushner: The White House’s results-driven tactician California dreamin’ in the 2020 presidential race 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 ObamaChina’s educational offensive in African markets Democrats have major policy dilemma with new Congress Booker's potential 2020 bid is generating buzz among Democratic activists, says political reporter 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.