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Then he turned to his son and quipped, “Too long?” It prompted a big laugh from the younger man.

As Laura Bush recounted the enormous challenges that her husband faced on 9/11 and other moments in office, Mr. Bush pressed his lips together firmly and fought back tears.

“I remember how steadfast and steady he was for eight years,” Mrs. Bush said.

The Bush team reflects

Although the day was full of praise for Mr. Bush, there was thinly veiled disdain among some of his allies for Mr. Obama, who criticized the Republican’s policies during his presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

Tom Ridge, who served as the nation’s first Homeland Security secretary under Mr. Bush, said Mr. Obama has never given credit to his predecessor for building a national security infrastructure to fight global terrorism, including the USA Patriot Act, which expanded intelligence-gathering and executive powers, and the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

“President Obama, during the course of his campaign in 2008, criticized it,” Mr. Ridge said of the enhanced counterterrorism apparatus. “But once he got into the Oval Office and understood what Bush had done … as president of the United States, he’s got to be damned glad it existed and he inherited it, rather than trying to build it himself. He’s never quite publicly acknowledged it. The infrastructure that pulled down [Osama] bin Laden was created by President Bush.”

But Mr. Ridge told The Washington Times, “The beautiful thing about President Bush — he doesn’t care whether President Obama [gives credit]. He did it for the right reasons.”

The event also carried undertones of the presidential race in 2016, with Mrs. Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in attendance. George W. Bush is encouraging his brother to run, but their mother, Barbara, said Thursday that she doesn’t want another Bush presidency.

“There are other people out there that are very qualified and we’ve had enough Bushes,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show, adding that she doesn’t think Jeb will make a bid.

“He’s by far the best-qualified man, but no, I really don’t” want him to run, she said.

A rare gathering of leaders

Among the other dignitaries and celebrities in attendance were Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney (who sported a Stetson); former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his wife, Kim Yoon-ok; Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican; baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan; House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican; former Secretaries of State Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice; former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie; former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; former Italian President Silvio Berlusconi; Michael Reagan, son of the late president; Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of NATO; and former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo.

Mr. Clinton praised Mr. Bush for championing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Mr. Bush’s multibillion-dollar initiative to combat the disease in African nations.

“No president of my party could have passed that through Congress,” Mr. Clinton said.

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