Strained civility on show at state funeral for George HW Bush

Amanda Walker, US correspondent

America has paused to say goodbye to a president from a more courteous time, in a rare moment of national unity.

Military honour guards escorted former President George HW Bush as he departed the US Capitol for the final time, with his casket having now arrived at the Houston church where his family worshipped.

The body of the 41st president will lie in repose through the night ahead of his funeral on Thursday, with locals passing by to pay their respects.

Before his body was flown to his home state, mourners lined the streets of the nation's capital, watching the journey that slowed past the White House, where he lived for four years.

It continued to Washington's National Cathedral for a service attended by the current and past presidents and first ladies.

Body language analysis went into overdrive as Donald Trump and his wife Melania joined Barack and Michelle Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton on the front pew.

With strained civility, the Trumps and Obamas shook hands while Hillary Clinton maintained a forward gaze.

This was an occasion bigger than the grievances and tensions that couldn't quite be disguised.

George Bush Jr broke the ice by slipping a sweet to Michelle Obama - a jovial echo of his same gesture at Senator John McCain's funeral in September - it's becoming something of a tradition for the two friends.

The choreographed spectacle of a state funeral felt apt for a rich life encompassing the highest levels of American public service - a life that ended only months after that of his great love Barbara.

Presidential biographer Jon Meacham gave a touching eulogy: "In this work, he had the most wonderful of allies in Barbara Pierce Bush, his wife of 73 years. He called her 'Bar', 'the Silver Fox' and, when the situation warranted, 'the Enforcer'.

"He was the only boy she ever kissed. Her children, Mrs Bush liked to say, always wanted to throw up when they heard that."

The main eulogy - fell to his son, former president George W Bush, who described his last call to his father.

"Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him.

"The guy who answered the phone said, 'I think he can hear you, but hasn't said anything most of the day.'

"I said, 'Dad, I love you, and you've been a wonderful father.' And the last words he would ever say on earth were, 'I love you, too.'"

To laughter, he said: "To us, he was close to perfect. But, not totally perfect. His short game was lousy. He wasn't exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor.

"The man couldn't stomach vegetables, especially broccoli. And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us."

But humour gave way to grief as the former president broke down in tears recalling "the best father a son or daughter could have".

People did not agree with Bush Sr's every policy - but few argued with the dignified and respectful way he carried out his presidency. His death is also being mourned as the passing of an era of civility.