Historic USAFA Graduate Remembered for "Legacy of Diversity"

The life of Charles "Chuck" Vernon Bush was honored, remembered, and celebrated Saturday at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Bush is known for a significant number of commendable accomplishments and achievements in his lifetime. But he is best known for his "legacy of diversity". He spent his life fighting for “equal opportunity and justice for all.”

He was the first African-American graduate from the Air Force Academy. He graduated with the class of 1963, earning a Master’s degree. He was even given the nickname “BG-1” for being the first black grad.

The Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, called him a “pioneer and groundbreaking individual.”

“It is worth celebrating for sure. Anybody who can be the first at anything and do it with class, with style, and with dignity, we owe Chuck Bush a lot,” Lt. Gen. Michael Gould.

Bush was also the first African-American Page to the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill.

The 72-year-old received many academic achievements as well as career achievements in the Air Force. He served in Vietnam as an intelligence officer where he was awarded the Bronze Star and Joint Service Commendation Medal.

In 1970, Bush took his intelligence to Harvard Business School, earning a MBA in finance. He spent the rest of his professional career in numerous business enterprises.

He also founded the Maecenas Fund, successfully creating opportunities for higher education for minority students.

“He said we would be a better Air Force Academy and better able to provide these young men and women with the foundation they need as we become more diverse, and he was a strong advocate for that, and we’re better for that,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Gould.

11 News talked to one of Bush's friend, Fletcher Wiley "Flash". He was a ‘65 graduate of the Air Force Academy.

Wiley says he knew about Bush because of Bush’s publicity after becoming the first African-American Page to the Supreme Court. Bush was two years ahead of him, and when he heard he was accepted into the Air Force Academy, Wiley was even more inspired to go there.

“It was a great joy to meet him in the flesh, so to speak. Even though he was in my face, chewing me out,” said Wiley.

Wiley said Bush was always good for a laugh.

“He had an outstanding sense of humor, but beneath that reservoir of humor, lay a man who had a vision. His vision was to try to make the world a more diverse place,” said Wiley.

And he did in several avenues of his life, impacting many lives.

In the service program it read, "The legacy of Charles Bush lives on in the immeasurable number of lives he touched both directly and indirectly through his accomplishments."

“He opened doors here at the Air Force Academy, opened in the Air Force, he opened doors in Harvard. He’s been one of those door opening guys all his life, and he did it with intelligence, with dedication, with persistence, and with class. That’s why we all love him so much,” said Wiley.

Wiley commended his friend and mentor for always putting others first.

“He remembered it just wasn’t about hi, he opened the doors so people can come behind him and stand on his shoulders and achieve,” said Wiley.

Among his many accomplishments, one of his most prized was his family. Bush was a loving husband and father, and devoted grandfather. One speaker said he "gave endlessly to his family".
Bush was married 48 years to his wife Bettina "Tina" Wills Bush. He was deeply loved by his family. He leaves behind a son and two daughters, 8 grandsons and one granddaughter, and 2 great-grand-kids. He called them the "profoundest joy of his life" in the service program.
At the service, Bush's daughter Bettina, sang one of his favorite songs "Blowin' in the Wind".
With a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, and the presentation of the American Flag to Bush's wife by the USAFA Superintendent, loved ones and admirers said their final goodbye.

“I think what I will miss the most is his leadership, and pushing the envelope. He was incessant in saying we can do better, we can go further,” said Wiley.

Bush retired to Lolo, Montana in 2008 after 30 years in Southern California serving as senior corporate officer of several multi-national corporations.

He passed away from cancer in November of 2012.

A foundation has been established to carry on Chuck's legacy of diversity.

Donations can be made to:
Chuck Bush Memorial Fund
c/o USAFA Association of Graduates
3116 Academy Drive, USAFA, CO 80840