Thousands waved and cheered along the route as funeral train No. 4141 — for the 41st president — carried George H.W. Bush’s remains to their final resting place on Thursday, his last journey as a week of national remembrance took on a decidedly personal feel in an emotional home state farewell.
Some people laid coins along the tracks that wound through small town Texas so a 420,000-pound locomotive pulling the nation’s first funeral train in nearly half a century could crunch them into souvenirs. Others snapped pictures or crowded for views so close that police helicopters overhead had to warn them back. Elementary students hoisted a banner simply reading “THANK YOU.”
The scenes reminiscent of a bygone era followed the more somber tone of a funeral service at a Houston church, where Bush’s former secretary of state and confidant for decades, James Baker, addressed him as “jefe,” Spanish for “boss.” At times choking back tears, Baker praised Bush as “a beautiful human being” who had “the courage of a warrior. But when the time came for prudence, he maintained the greater courage of a peacemaker.”
Baker also offered Bush as a contrast to today’s divisive, sometimes vitriolic politics, saying that his “wish for a kinder, gentler nation was not a cynical political slogan. It came honest and unguarded from his soul.”
“The world became a better place because George Bush occupied the White House for four years,” said Baker.
As the post-funeral motorcade carrying Bush’s remains later sped down a closed highway from the church to the train station, construction workers on all levels of an unfinished building paused to watch. A man sitting on a Ferris wheel near the aquarium waved.
Bush’s body was later loaded onto a special train fitted with clear sides so people could catch a glimpse of the casket as it rumbled by. The train traveled about 70 miles to the family plot on the grounds of Bush’s presidential library at Texas A&M University. Bush’s final resting place is alongside his wife, Barbara, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia at age 3.
The train arrived in College Station in the late afternoon with a military band playing “Hail to the Chief” and then Texas A&M’s “Aggie War Hymn.”
At the earlier service at Houston’s St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, where Bush and his family regularly worshipped, the choir sang “This is My Country,” which was also sung at Bush’s presidential inauguration in 1989. Those gathered heard a prayer stressing the importance of service and selflessness that the president himself offered for the country at the start of his term.
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., recalled the Bushes often attending services and offering to give up their seats to others on days when the church was particularly crowded.
“He was ready for heaven, and heaven was ready for him,” Levenson said of Bush who was in declining health in recent years. The minister suggested that when the former president died, he met his wife of 73 years in heaven and Barbara Bush playfully demanded, “What took you so long?”
Elizabeth Kiamar gave birth to her first child 20 years ago, her second 11 years ago, and her third, Jonah, just two days ago.
“I like the fact that the baby never leaves us now,” Kiamar said. The lights in her room at University of Texas Medical Branch’s Mother-Baby Unit were turned down low and her husband, John Rutherford, reclined on a fold-out bed just next to Kiamar’s. Jonah lay on her lap, wrapped snugly in a blanket.
When Kiamar’s first child was born, standard practice in maternity wards was to take the baby immediately after birth, bathe it, perform medical exams on it and move it to a nursery from where it was taken to its mother on a schedule, often interrupted because of nurses’ multiple responsibilities.
At the medical branch now, that practice has changed completely.
When Jonah was born, he was laid immediately on Kiamar’s chest, skin-to-skin, to give mother and baby — and father, standing by — a chance to touch and bond, then attempt the first breastfeeding.
From there, Jonah roomed in with his mom and dad, with nurses and doctors checking in regularly.
“A lactation consultant came in last night to talk with me,” Kiamar said. “It’s been 11 years since I’ve done this.”
The lactation consultant helped with the latching-on process, checked the baby’s suction strength and talked to both parents about how to read the signs that Jonah might be hungry and ready to feed, encouraging feeding on demand rather than on schedule.
Both mother and father were instructed in the benefits of breastfeeding, exclusively if possible, for the first six months of Jonah’s life, and both were encouraged to integrate the process into their daily lives.
A doctor came in to check on baby and family and said if all continued to go well, they could leave at the end of the day.
“Get some rest,” he said and both mother and father smiled tiredly.
Jonah Marcos Rutherford, age one day, was born the day after University of Texas Medical Branch announced its official designation as a Baby-Friendly hospital by Baby-Friendly USA, the accrediting body of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative begun in 1991 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
In 2007, less than 3 percent of United States births occurred in about 60 Baby-Friendly designated facilities, and in 2018, those numbers have risen to more than 25 percent of births in a little more than 500 Baby-Friendly designated facilities, including University of Texas Medical Branch.
Baby-Friendly designated hospitals are required to adopt practices in support of successful breastfeeding that, across the world, have transformed maternity wards from places heavily influenced by the commercial presence of baby formula manufacturers, where medical practices often separated babies from families in their first formative hours after birth and supplemental feedings were routine rather than a choice made by the family.
The designation promotes breastfeeding and lactation support from prenatal stages through post-birth, and especially during the time in the hospital when a mother gives birth.
The movement toward Baby-Friendly facilities is based on one over-arching guideline, that breastfeeding has been internationally recognized by scientific authorities as the optimal method of infant feeding and should be promoted as the norm within all maternal and child health care facilities, according to the World Health Organization.
Nonetheless, factors influencing the decision to breastfeed often have been more about cultural influences than health promotion, according to widespread analysis in medical journals, despite longstanding medical knowledge that breast milk encourages bonding, strengthens digestion and promotes a healthy immune system in infants.
The Baby-Friendly Health Initiative was launched, in part, to stem those influences and to promote understanding of the benefits of best feeding practices for babies and parents alike.
The process for the medical branch to achieve Baby-Friendly distinction has been years in the making and was made possible by a gift of $125,000 made to the medical branch by Barbara and Dominick Sasser of Galveston.
“We’re extraordinarily pleased with the effort that UTMB made,” Dominick Sasser said. “There are so many babies born at UTMB, and this will be a lasting legacy for the hospital, to give them the best start possible.”
An estimated 5,000 babies will be born at the medical branch in the upcoming year.
Barbara Sasser was involved in the activities of La Leche League International, an organization that supports breastfeeding, during her time mothering three children. Both Barbara and Dominick Sasser were inspired to see change in the hospital birth experience based on their own personal experience of support for breastfeeding that included both mother and father.
“We wanted to move the needle,” Barbara Sasser said.
Instrumental in moving that needle were chairpersons from the departments of pediatrics and obstetrics-gynecology, Drs. Joan Richardson and Gary Hankins, as well as Deborah Mordecai, assistant chief nursing officer and director of patient care services, the Sassers said.
Since the medical branch began its participation in the initiative in 2014, the number of babies born there that are breastfed for the first six months has risen from 5 percent to 45 percent, said Tracey Santiago, nurse manager for the Mother-Baby Unit.
“It’s really about giving parents an informed choice,” Santiago said. If breastfeeding isn’t working, for any reason, mothers receive support in supplementing as well, including how to safely mix and store formulas.
To be designated Baby-Friendly, Santiago and her team of nurses had to change the unit’s model of patient care, starting in the delivery room.
“There used to be a nurse for the mom and a nurse for the baby,” she said. “We had to cross-train all the nurses to do both, and all nurses received breastfeeding education.”
Under the new model, barring any medical distress, the baby stays with its mother and father, skin to skin, from its first moments rather than being swept away for bathing and examination. The first bath is delayed for up to 12 hours, giving the baby’s body temperature time to regulate and giving parents the option to give the first bath. Newborn evaluations take place next to the mother’s bed, in her room, and lactation support is available from the first hours up to several months later when mothers can continue to participate in lactation support groups.
“I used to think that this was about promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life,” Santiago said. “Now I think it’s about making that mom feel more successful.”
In the five years since the city began charging people to park along the seawall, the program has generated a little more than $3 million in revenue, of which a little more than $1.3 million has been banked in a reserve meant to pay for more improvements, according to officials and records.
How the money has been spent is a topic of discussion among many islanders as the program’s 2020 sunset deadline approaches, meaning voters could be asked next year to extend the program and raise the parking fee from $1 to $2 an hour.
Since its inception in 2013, the program has generated about $3.4 million in total revenue, according to city and Galveston Park Board of Trustees records.
The city in 2014 handed over maintenance and operation of the program to the park board.
While numerous improvements, including some restroom facilities, better lighting and landscaping, have been installed along the city’s biggest and busiest park, most of the seawall parking revenue collected so far has gone to personnel and upkeep costs, according to records.
The improvements were paid for mostly with grant money.
Voters approved the $1 an hour charge in 2011 on the condition the money pay for improvements and amenities on the seawall. Last week, an ad hoc committee tasked with reviewing the program recommended that voters should be asked in a citywide referendum to continue the program and raise the minimum parking price.
About $348,175, 42 percent, of the $828,101 collected in fiscal year 2017 to 2018 went to personnel expenses, according to quarterly reports. Those expenses include the salaries of people who clean up the seawall and perform custodial maintenance on facilities, park board spokeswoman Mary Beth Bassett said.
Another $226,227 went to materials and supplies, which included costs for gasoline, repair and cleaning supplies, according to the reports. More than 67 percent of that line item, $153,600, was banking expenses, according to reports.
The $133,786 left after personnel and material costs went to the city and into the fund that has accumulated to $1.358 million since the seawall parking program begin in 2013.
The city pays the park board an administrative fee equal to 10 percent of gross revenue, which amounted to about $82,000 in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
“The money collected for seawall parking has been used to maintain these added amenities, landscaping and other improvements,” Barnett said. “If voters approve an increase of $1 per hour for seawall parking, the additional revenue would go toward building and maintaining more amenities.”
Future improvements might include more bathrooms, lighting and additional street crossings on Seawall Boulevard, Barnett said.
But there’s no concrete plan as of yet, District 2 Councilman Craig Brown said.
“That’s something that council will be looking into,” Brown said. “We have an obligation to make sure we clarify that with the voters.”
The amenities already installed on the seawall, which include 30 bus stops, bathrooms, landscaping and lighting, were funded through grants and some local contributions, Barnett said.
“We paid for the improvements and their installation with a pair of federal grants totaling $5.864 million, a $1 million grant from Frito-Lay and $466,000 local share from hotel occupancy taxes,” Barnett said.
It has taken time for the seawall parking fund to accumulate enough money to pay for significant capital projects, District 3 Councilman David Collins said.
“The fund hadn’t built up,” Collins said. “We have enough money to maintain them now and we’re building that fund so in future years the parking revenue will fund the new improvements.”
More bathrooms, lighting and landscaping were likely uses of the capital funds, he said.
If voters decided to raise the parking fee, that money could go to some needed projects, park board Executive Director Kelly de Schaun said.
“We don’t have enough restrooms up there,” de Schaun said. “We’d love to see some more parking meters up there to defer some personnel costs. I think there’s more work to be done significantly.”
The city council is scheduled to discuss the ballot language next week to bring before voters this spring. If the measure fails, city officials have discussed bringing a revised ordinance to voters in November.