Former President George H. W. Bush appeared frail but in good spirits when he returned to the White House with his wife Barbara to attend a ceremony honoring volunteers.
Family friends say Bush, 89, has made a slow but impressive recovery from bronchitis and an infection that sent him to a Houston hospital last November.
He visited the White House Monday in a wheelchair because of a separate condition called vascular Parkinsonism that has disabled his legs. But he spoke briefly and seemed delighted by all the attention.
President Obama said, "Mr. President, I'm one of the millions of people who've been inspired by your passion and commitment." Obama added: "You're such a gentleman, such a good and kind person, and we are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you and we can't thank you enough."
Bush had used the phrase "kinder and gentler" to describe his goals for the nation during his successful presidential campaign in 1988.
Bush said returning to the White House was "like coming home for Barbara and me." Showing his playful side, he wore bright red and white striped socks to the ceremony.
Bush was president from 1989-93. During that time, he established an award program called "Points of Light," designed to honor those who served their communities. Monday's ceremony honored the 5,000th recipient of the award, now under the auspices of Bush's Points of Light Foundation. The latest recipients were Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton of Union, Iowa, for their work fighting hunger around the world through a nonprofit group that they founded, Outreach.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.