DALLAS (April 25, 2013)--The dedication ceremony for George W. Bush's presidential center ended Thursday after the nation's 43rd president gave a closing speech with tears welling in his eyes.
A crowd of 10,000 watched as a military guard carried a line of flags off the stage, followed by the departure of Bush and all four former presidents and their wives Thursday in Dallas.
Former members of the Bush administration, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, current and former world leaders including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the children of former presidents also attended.
Bush gave the last speech, noting his joy that his father, the 41st president, was able to attend the dedication.
He said, "41, it is awesome that you are here today."
Former First Lady Laura Bush said the center is meant as much for U.S. military personnel and others as it is for her husband.
In remarks Thursday morning, Mrs. Bush said the presidency is represented by the important roles played by tens of thousands of military personnel.
She also thanked many in the Bush administration who worked behind the scenes to forward U.S. policy.
She talked of moments that defined her husband's presidency, including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and described the aftermath as a "long season of heartbreak and healing."
Former President George H.W. Bush received a standing ovation as he honored his son at the dedication.
The former president was seated Thursday in Dallas next to his son as he smiled and congratulated the 43rd president.
The elder Bush suffers from a form of Parkinson's disease that has forced him in recent years to use a motorized scooter or wheelchair to get around.
He has been hospitalized recently for bronchitis.
George H.W. Bush spoke for just a brief minute while seated, thanking guests for coming out to support his son, but attendees rose from their seats, cheering, when the elder Bush briefly rose from his seat.
After the speech, Bush turned to his son and asked, "Too long?"
George W. Bush laughed.
Former President Bill Clinton joked that he's become so close to the Bushes that he's become "the black sheep son."
Clinton was reunited with his predecessor and successor once again Thursday during the dedication.
Clinton told the crowd Bush had a beautiful library and that his institute's work was inspiring.
Clinton also noted that Bush had beaten him to becoming a grandfather and joked with him about his newfound hobby of painting.
Clinton and another former Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, both noted Bush's humanitarian causes.
Wearing dark sunglasses, Carter credited Bush for helping broker a peace treaty in Sudan after he took office.
President Barack Obama honored the Bush presidency during the dedication.
On a day when politics was set aside, the president described his Republican predecessor as a "good man" and as a leader who demonstrated strength, resolve and compassion.
Mr. Obama called the dedication of the center a "Texas-sized party" befitting the former president.
All five living American presidents gathered in Dallas for the dedication.
Mr. Obama says it’s a pretty exclusive club, but it's more like a support group for the men who have held an incredibly difficult job.
"It's impossible to truly understand the nature of the job until it's yours,” the president said.
The 226,000-square-foot center occupies 23 acres on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, where it opens to the public on May 1.
The library and museum holds more than 70 million pages of paper records, 43,000 artifacts, 200 million e-mails and 4 million digital photographs, the largest holding of digital records of any presidential library.
The 14,000-square-foot permanent exhibit in the museum includes sections dedicated to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the Florida recount and various other historical events.
The Bush library is the 13th presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.
It's the third presidential library in Texas.
Thursday’s dedication also drew about 50 protesters including anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan.
Sheehan camped out near Bush's ranch outside of Crawford to protest the war in Iraq and nine years after her son died in Iraq, Sheehan says she still has a reason to protest.
Sheehan says she feels that President Barack Obama has maintained much of Bush's national security strategy.
"I wake up every day feeling like today's the day to make a difference. I never question the correctness of what I'm doing or the need for it,” she said.