Capt. Phillip Brooks Bush II, U.S. Navy (Ret.), 93, of Washington, D.C., died on Saturday, Jan. 13, at Brighton Gardens of Friendship Heights in Chevy Chase, Md. Known as Phil in his Washington circles and as Brooks among friends and family in his hometown of Lenoir, N.C.
He was born on Nov. 10, 1930, to the late Richard Milton Bush and Bertha Louise Deitz Bush. Phil was proceeded in death by his brother, Charles Rich “C.R.” Bush. He is survived by his nephew, Charles Richard Bush; and niece Laura Bush Sedlacek, husband Scott Sedlacek and great nephew Rylan Bush Sedlacek. He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Doris Hinson Bush. He took immense pride in being the last surviving of 16 Bush first cousins of his generation.
He was a graduate of Central High School (Lenoir), Lenoir-Rhyne College (Hickory, N.C.) and Georgetown University (master’s degree). In high school, he was proud to have been in the Young Republicans Club with future U.S. Senator James T. Broyhill.
Phil served honorably in the U.S. Navy and retired as a Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve. In civilian life, he served as chief budget officer for the Navy at the Pentagon, retiring at 55 in 1986, but not before his final budget was complete.
Retirement is when the fun really took off. No one loved trains and railroads more than Phil. His lifelong hobby took him all over the continent collecting thousands of miles on Amtrak rail lines and enjoying hundreds of excursions on steam trains, diesel engines, and electric-powered locomotives. In the process, he made many friends and associates on adventures all over the continental U.S. It was a glorious site to see them all racing around to get the best possible picture angles when the special trains would stop to let everyone off, back track and then race by for closeups. He took his brother and nephew with him in 1994 for the 125th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point in Utah. His very last train adventure included a trip on a Sugar Cane plantation rail line in Florida as well a ride on the auto car trains.
Phil last flew in 1968 when he rushed home to N.C. to see his ailing mother. Phil’s no-fly attitude turned a Navy business trip to Los Angeles into a weeklong back-and-forth train ride. When asked if he ever had to fly while he was serving on active duty, he would quickly point out that he was in the Navy for a reason. His beloved obsession led to a lifetime of collecting model trains, memorabilia, historical artifacts, books, photos (including thousands he took himself), and paintings that filled his three-story row house just blocks from the U.S. Capitol (where his neighbors over the years included senators, house members, and attorney). Phil made numerous donations and gifts, including several truckloads to the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer, and regular contributions to the Caldwell Historical Museum in Lenoir. He never got over cities taking up their streetcar lines, but was thrilled light rail is now making a comeback.
He loved to ski and made a number of trips with the Pentagon’s Air Force Ski Club through the years (the Navy did not have one). Of course, Phil left early and came home late so he could take the train instead of a plane. He especially enjoyed when ski trips allowed him to stay in one of the grand old train hotels like those around Banff, Canada. He even helped talk his brother, C.R., into finally taking up the sport while in his 60s. In retirement, he worked for fun at what was one of his lifelong hobbies and passions, the Train Store.
Phil’s home on Capitol Hill (which he bought for a mere $12,500 in the early 1950s with the initial help of his brother and Uncle Charles Bush) was a wonderland for more than trains, with historical family photos and collections of N.C., American, and Lutheran memorabilia covering the walls and lining the bookshelves in every room. He also spent years painstakingly restoring and adding to the house (from new fireplaces to modern bathrooms) that once was a boarding house run by his Aunt Connie.
Phil took extraordinary pride and pleasure in his role as the Bush Family historian, tracing the clan’s roots back through the decades. He loved talking about the beginnings of the line, which began in western N.C. with Richard Bush and Mary Rippetoe. He always looked forward to the Bush Reunion held at the site of the old Bush schoolhouse in Cajah’s Mountain each August. Phil last attended at age 90 in 2021.
Phil was a huge news junkie, reading at least two newspapers a day and numerous magazines as well as tuning into the news each night right until his final day. He was always ready for a good discussion about politics. Phil grew up at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Lenoir (his mother was Lutheran, breaking the Bush Family’s Methodist traditions), and he was a current member of Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in D.C.
The support of his friends and neighbors on his block and at nearby Pete’s Diner allowed him to live alone in his D.C. home until July, 2023. He loved and appreciated them all. He did not miss breakfast at Pete’s for years after Sherrill’s Restaurant and Bakery closed around the block in 2000. Coincidentally, both businesses were started by people from Lenoir. Phil was pleased to be in a 1989 documentary about Sherrill’s Bakery that was nominated for an Academy Award. He took personal gratification inorganizing an outreach program with Pete’s Diner to provide nearly 10,000 meals to the troops protecting the Capitol in 2021, saying “What started out as helping a few of our troops has grown to a full-time operation … people are sending supplies for the troops from throughout the country.” A local D.C. television station even ran a news story on it.
Special thanks to Washington DC friends Margarita Alfonso, John Easton, Dr. and Mrs. Bill Braithwaite, and Pete’s Diner owner Gum, and her restaurant staff.
Phillip Brooks Bush II will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. This resting place was particularly important to him. Donations in Phil’s memory may be made to the Caldwell Heritage Museum (Lenoir) or the N.C. Transportation Museum, anything that keeps the history of trains alive.