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On Bush Center's Dedication Day, No Aisle Divided Former Presidents

It was a unique moment in history today as our five living presidents came together at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. They were there for the dedication of George W. Bush’s Presidential Center. The ceremony marked by mutual respect and a couple of presidential one-liners.

The roll call of dignitaries included presidential families dating back to sixties, and leaders from around the world.

On stage, the country’s five living heads of state took seats next to their first ladies. Three democrats and two republicans, members of what some call the world’s most exclusive club. They put aside political differences  as they spoke about the good work of George W. Bush.

Jimmy Carter thanked the 43rd president for fighting AIDS and cervical cancer .

"There were 50,000 HIV sufferers in Africa being treated for AIDS when he came into office," Carter said. "When he left office, two million."

President Obama thanked Bush for the support and advice he offered when Obama moved into the White House.

" The first thing I found in that desk the day I took office was a letter from George," Obama said. "And one that demonstrated his compassion and and his generosity.  For he knew that I would come to learn what he had learned, that being president is a humbling job."

Bill Clinton, still one of the nation’s most popular Democrats, joked about the close relationship he’s forged with the Bushes.

"My mother told me not to talk too long today," he said. "And Barbara, I won’t let you down."

Clinton gushed about the new Center’s Decision Points Theater, which allows visitors to decide issues that faced Bush.  He said it’s a great exercise in democracy.

"By asking us to join him in the decisions he made and inviting us to make different ones if we choose, he has honored that deepest American tradition," he said.

Seated next to the 43rd president was the 41st, his father -- frail and in a wheelchair, but bursting with pride.

George W. Bush broke the ice with a nod to his parents.

"This is the first time in American history that parents have seen their son’s presidential library," Bush said.  "Mother, I promise to keep my area clean."

In his library and institute, there’s a central theme Bush keeps coming back to- freedom.

"The guiding principle of the administration is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom.   I believe that freedom is a gift from God and the hope of every human heart," Bush said.

The former president says says he’s now retired from politics but not from public service.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.