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Original Issue

GEORGE H.W. BUSH 1924-2018

SPORTS SHAPED George H.W. Bush, who died on Nov. 30 at age 94. He sailed; he played tennis, soccer and baseball; he ran; he golfed; he fished; he pitched horseshoes; he skydived for his 75th birthday—and every five years thereafter. His Yale Bulldogs made the finals of the first and second College World Series, losing both times. Like his idol Lou Gehrig, he played a sure-handed first base, but where Gehrig batted fourth, Bush tended to hit eighth. "Second cleanup," he called it.

That modesty only partially obscured the zeal for competition bequeathed to young Poppy Bush by his mother, Dorothy. Family lore had it that she once finished a tennis match despite breaking her wrist mid-point. In 1940, when Poppy was 16, Dorothy offered $5 to any of her sons who could beat her. The future president accepted and won; his younger brother Jonathan told SI in 1988 that "it was a brutal match, both of them wringing wet when they finished."

While president, he installed a horseshoe court at the White House. The game was his preferred method of outreach to congressional Democrats, journalists and even Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who threw a perfect ringer on his first try at the game during a 1990 visit to Camp David.

Whatever the game, Bush was known for his good humor and his indefatigability more than his ability. A questionnaire the family filled out when he was applying to high school noted that he "hasn't gotten quite the strength he should have for his size" but that he was willing to outwork everyone without seeking attention for it. Again, his hero was Gehrig, not Ruth: "Nothing flashy," he told biographer Jon Meacham, "no hot-dogging, the ideal sportsman."