Herman: Why the Bushes changed plans to be buried in Austin

Former President George W. Bush and wife Laura had an upgraded reservation for an extended stay here in Austin but they’ve changed their minds and will not check in when they check out.

Back in October 2016, I told you the Bushes had decided on the Texas State Cemetery in East Austin as their eventual final resting place.

“The Texas State Cemetery Committee and cemetery staff are honored that President and Mrs. Bush have chosen the cemetery for their burial sites,” Harry Bradley, the cemetery superintendent back then, said at the time.

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Now comes word that the Bushes have changed their minds and plan on being buried on the grounds of the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Bush spokesman Freddy Ford confirmed the change. The reason, he said, was simple.

“When President Bush went to his mother’s burial, which was at the Bush Library in College Station, he felt that added a nice permanence to the library there, and he and Mrs. Bush decided they wanted to do the same thing,” Ford said. “So they will be laid to rest in Dallas.”

Barbara Bush died April 17 in Houston. Her funeral was at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston on April 21, followed by burial at the George Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in College Station. In addition to Barbara Bush, daughter Robin is buried at the library. She died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3 and initially was buried in Greenwich, Conn. Her remains were moved to Texas A&M in 2000.

The effort to get George W. and Laura Bush to pick the State Cemetery date to shortly after they moved out of the White House and back to Dallas in January 2009. At the time, the Bushes had long-standing reservations — stemming from his gubernatorial years — in Row T of the Republic Hill section.

Those plots are under a shady oak tree near Navasota Street on the cemetery’s western edge. Nice, but somehow not presidential level. The upgrade involved a more prominent location.

Back in 2016, when the Bushes announced they’d pick the State Cemetery as their final resting places, spokesman Ford said, “They never want to leave the home state they love.”

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“President Bush would just like to point out one thing: This doesn’t mean he already has one foot in the grave,” Ford said.

A president would have been a great get for the State Cemetery, which already has such Texas luminaries as Stephen F. Austin and Govs. Allan Shivers, John Connally, Mark White, Ann Richards, and Ma and Pa Ferguson.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, Texas’ only president other than the Bushes, was buried in the Johnson Family Cemetery in Stonewall on Jan. 25, 1973. His grave is near where he was born and is not far from the Texas White House on his ranch.

Other than LBJ, all presidents who’ve died since John F. Kennedy, who’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, are buried at their presidential libraries. That includes Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa; Dwight Eisenhower in Abilene, Kan.; Harry Truman in Independence, Mo.; Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda, Calif.; Ronald Reagan in Simi Valley, Calif.; and Gerald Ford in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Chris Currens, director of special projects for the State Preservation Board, which oversees the State Cemetery, said Wednesday his agency was notified of the Bushes’ change of plans several weeks ago.

“The planning of the presidential grave site was still in the discussion stage and the agency had not yet engaged any professional services,” Currens said. “The existing small plaza that was discussed as the potential grave site was in complete disrepair. The stone work had severely weathered due to a lack of maintenance and had to be removed.”

The state spent about $35,000 to demolish the site, according to Currens, and the space will get a new purpose as part of a master planning effort now underway at the cemetery.

“We respect former President Bush’s wish to change his final resting place and are grateful that he considered the Texas State Cemetery as one of his possible sites,” Currens said.

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