This week, President George H.W. Bush passed away at age 94. In almost a century on this planet, Bush lived a life star-crossed with greatness— as a college baseball pitcher who once shared the mound with Babe Ruth, a World War II fighter pilot shot down and rescued over the Pacific, a U.S. congressman, ambassador, and director of intelligence; as vice president to Ronald Reagan, as the nation’s 41st president, and as father to the nation’s 43rd president.
Lost in this list is the life of a fisherman.
The 1990 Time magazine Man of the Year was fond of fishing, criss-crossing the continent on angling expeditions from Florida to Maine, Alaska, Alabama, Wyoming, and Arkansas. Bush was a member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. In 2014, he was honored with the Keep America Fishing Lifetime Achievement award, and maintained friendships with Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris as well as B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott.
According to Duck’s Unlimited, Bush’s 1989 signing of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act—which contributes funding to conservation in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada— has contributed to the conservation of more than 33 million acres of wildlife habitat in the nearly 30 years since its inception. Three million acres were restored during his presidency alone.
This week, as the nation stood in silence as many watched an hours-long funeral broadcast nationally on major networks. Americans paid respects; but also debated the pro’s and con’s of Bush’s presidential initiatives like the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the so-called “war on drugs.”
Bush wasn’t perfect. He controversially encouraged oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But elsewhere, he also established some 56 National Wildlife Refuges during his presidency, while supporting initiatives and legislation for recreational fishermen in the United States.
And some Americans will remember him not only for his many political roles, but also for his many roles on the water.
He was a fly fisherman on the North Fork.
He was a bonefish angler in the Florida Keys.
He was a bass fisherman in Texas.
Bush fought to establish the Clean Air Act, a move that paid dividends this year as scientists proclaimed the hole in the ozone layer to be shrinking, at long last.
Perhaps no other President since Teddy Roosevelt embraced the nation’s outdoors so enthusiastically. It’s a detail easily glossed over in a lifetime littered with achievements, a detail embodied in one of Bush’s campaign speeches from 1988. “Those who think we’re powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect are forgetting about the White House effect.”
What an effect it was.