Obama's warm tribute to George H.W. Bush

President Barack Obama paid a warm tribute to former US leader George H.W. Bush on Monday at a White House event to celebrate volunteering.

"How your love of service has kindled a similar love in the hearts of others," Obama said at the ceremony saluting the work of the non-profit Points of Light organization.

Bush established the Daily Point of Light Award in 1989 to mark the work of individuals who volunteer. Monday's ceremony marked the 5,000th time the award was given since it was created.

Obama said Bush's commitment and support to volunteer service had helped create a "kinder, gentler nation" -- echoing the former president's famous slogan.

"Frankly, just the fact that you're such a gentleman and such a good and kind person, I think, helps to reinforce that spirit of service," Obama said.

"We are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you. And we can't thank you enough," Obama added, before applauding the 89-year-old Bush.

The former president, who appeared in a wheelchair and was hospitalized for two months last winter following a bout of bronchitis, said returning to the White House was "like coming home for Barbara and me."

He thanked Barack and Michelle Obama for "wonderful hospitality."

Bush is the oldest of the four living former Presidents. The World War II veteran lost his bid for a second term in November 1992 when he was beaten by Democrat Bill Clinton.

His son George W. Bush, Obama's immediate predecessor as President, was not present at Monday's White House ceremony.