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Remarks by President George W. Bush at a Service in Celebration of the Life of Richard M. DeVos “The Remembrance: Freedom”
LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church
Grand Rapids, Michigan
My name is George. (Laughter.)
I am really grateful for this opportunity to commemorate the life of an extraordinary American, and a friend, Rich DeVos. Rich befriended many presidents over the years, and one I know quite well – you call him 41; I call him Dad – sends his love to the Devos family, as does Laura. Sadly she can’t be here today, but she wanted me to make sure that I pass on her love as well.
Rich was first and foremost a family man, and so I am pleased to be with his beloved children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Of course we can’t really honor Rich without remembering your matriarch and the love of his life, Helen. And so I join you in giving thanks for their long lives and their remarkable marriage.
Despite our age difference, Rich and I had some things in common. We both gave speeches all around the world – though I don’t think he mangled the English language as often as I did. (Laughter.) I was known as the compassionate conservative, and he was the compassionate capitalist. (Laughter.) Perhaps above all, we share a love of freedom. Rich once said, "I've always loved my country and consider myself a patriot; however, I've been criticized for speaking out so enthusiastically about freedom, free enterprise, and love of country." Something else we had in common. (Laughter.)
I appreciate the DeVos family – one of the great American families – for inviting me to reflect on Rich’s love of freedom: his belief in the universal value of human freedom, and his recognition of the responsibilities that come with freedom. In preparing these remarks, I looked back at my second inaugural address. Seems like it was decades ago. (Laughter.) Here is some of what I said about freedom:
“America has need of idealism and courage, because we have essential work at home - the unfinished work of American freedom. In America's ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence. In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character - on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love.”
I went on to ask, “Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?” If that is the standard of good citizenship, Rich DeVos was gold.
You have to wonder, where was the wellspring for Rich’s love of freedom? He said he credited his upbringing in Grand Rapids. Rich was born to Dutch immigrants who were lured to the liberty and possibility of our country. He was a child of the Great Depression: his father lost his job; his family lost their house; but they never lost hopefulness. Rich’s family was always steadfast in their belief in the promise of America. And so after World War II, Rich and Jay Van Andel came up with a novel idea based on that promise.
“When we thought about owning our own business,” Rich wrote, “we thought the opportunity to do so was fundamental to America. We thought everyone who wanted to should be able to own their own business! My belief in free enterprise, and my defense of free enterprise as the greatest economic engine the world has ever known, was borne out daily as we watched our little business grow. A vacant floodplain in a tiny rural village began to rapidly sprout manufacturing plants, warehouses, and offices. Here was the overwhelming evidence of the power of free enterprise, something than even all my speeches and writings could not measure up to – what is today the Amway World Headquarters.”
As Amway grew, Rich always held firm in his conviction that our country must, at all costs, maintain and defend our freedoms. Rich believed in free and open societies ordered by moral conviction and compassionate government. He believed in economies that reward effort, communities that protect the weak, and the duties of nations to respect the dignity and rights of all. And he recognized that the desire for freedom is not a uniquely American value, but the inborn hope of all humanity. So Rich went around the world, in his words, “Selling America” – promoting free enterprise, personal responsibility, and opportunity for all. And there was no finer salesman for American values than Rich DeVos.
I remember visiting an Amway conference in China a few years ago. The arena was filled with thousands of successful Amway entrepreneurs who were realizing the blessings and benefits of economic freedom. In selling America, Rich was really selling freedom for all – and empowering people around the world.
Rich understood that the gift of freedom came with responsibilities. He became not only a leader in business, but a leader in his community, in the church, and in our country. He always helped those who were less fortunate. The gospel of Luke reminds us that of those to whom much has been given, much shall be required. Rich DeVos lived out the gospel on a daily basis.
I listened to Rich’s “Selling America” speech this week and was struck by the power of this passage: “We believe and have always believed, in this country, that man was created in the image of God, and given talents and responsibilities, and was instructed to use them to make this world a better place in which to live. And you see, this is the really great thing of America. This is where it contrasts with everything that…other godless societies are attempting to do. Because you see, at heart, we believe that man was created. And that in him is a living spirit – that he’s not just a bunch of dirt and clay put together for a few years until we bury him, but that he has greater depth and great responsibilities than that. And that’s why we respect each other. That’s why we care for each other. And that’s why we stand together and give thanks for the things we enjoy.”
Rich certainly was more than a bunch of dirt and clay. He had greater depth; he recognized his greater responsibilities. And that’s why we stand together today and give thanks for Rich DeVos. His life is a testament to the promise of America and the blessings of freedom, and we will miss him. We will remember his life, and as we do so, we rejoice in his heavenly reunion with Helen and their audience with the Almighty. God bless.
President Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, to Barbara and George H.W. Bush – later the 41st President of the United States. In 1948, the family moved to Texas, where George W. Bush grew up in Midland and Houston. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University in 1968 and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1975. He served as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 to 1974. He settled in Midland, where he started an energy business and married Laura Welch on November 5, 1977. After working on his father’s successful 1988 Presidential campaign, George W. Bush joined a group of partners that purchased the Texas Rangers baseball franchise in 1989.
On November 8, 1994, George W. Bush was elected the 46th Governor of Texas. In 1998, he became the first governor in Texas history to be elected to consecutive four-year terms.
After the Presidency, George and Laura Bush founded the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas. The Center is home to the Bush Presidential Museum and Library, which houses George W. Bush’s presidential papers. The Center is also home to the George W. Bush Institute, a public policy organization that focuses on economic growth, education reform, global health, and human freedom. The Institute supports the rights of women with its Women’s Initiative and honors those who have served in the United States armed forces through its Military Service Initiative.
President Bush is the author of Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors, a collection of paintings and stories honoring the sacrifice and courage of America's veterans. He is also the author of two bestselling books, Decision Points and 41.
He and Laura are the parents of twin daughters: Barbara, married to Craig Coyne, and Jenna, married to Henry Hager. The Bushes are also the proud grandparents of Margaret Laura “Mila”, Poppy Louise, and Henry Harold “Hal” Hager. The Bush family also includes two cats, Bob and Bernadette, as well as Freddy the dog.