George W. Bush: Amway founder 'a leader in this community'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Former President George W. Bush leaves after speaking at the memorial service for Rich DeVos at La Grave Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018.

The life of Amway co-founder billionaire, philanthropist and political supporter Richard DeVos was celebrated Thursday in a private Grand Rapids funeral service that drew former U.S. President George W. Bush.

DeVos, who died Sept. 6 at age 92 at his west Michigan home from complications of an infection, had long been friendly with Bush and his family and was "an extraordinary American," the former president told mourners at LaGrave Christian Reformed Church.

Despite an age difference, the pair "had some things in common," Bush said in remarks posted on YouTube. "We both gave speeches around the world but I don’t think he mangled the English language as often as I did ... I was known as a compassionate conservative, he was the compassionate capitalist."

The influential figure launched Amway with lifetime business partner, the late Jay Van Andel, in their basements in Ada, growing it into an international direct-sales giant with billions of dollars in annual sales. He served as Amway's president until 1993.

His net worth of $5.4 billion led to a ranking in Forbes as 379th-richest billionaire in the world.

His business fortunes fueled a family known for its political and philanthropic giving, becoming influential in west Michigan and nationwide. He was instrumental to the revitalization of Grand Rapids.

DeVos and his late wife, Helen, boosted Christian ministries and churches through their Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation. Additionally, their philanthropic efforts also supported institutions such as Calvin College, Grand Valley State University, Hope College, Michigan State University and Northwood University.

The father-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also made significant donations to the Republican Party and was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Presidential Commission on AIDS.  

"He became not only a leader in business, but a leader in this community and the church and in our country," Bush said. "He always helped those who were less fortunate."

DeVos, who also was an author, the NBA's Orlando Magic senior chairman and motivational speaker, leaned on the lessons from his Dutch immigrant parents and "went around the world selling America," Bush said. 

The former president recalled attending an Amway conference in China that drew many successful entrepreneurs who reflected the businessman's vision for expanding economic opportunities.

But DeVos also reminded Bush of a biblical passages reminding others that much is required from those who have been given a lot in life.

"Rich lived out the gospel on a daily basis," Bush told the audience.

DeVos’ children and grandchildren spoke of his unconditional love, generosity, leadership, inspirational words and quirkiness during the invitation-only service.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.