Cars and TV remote broadcast vans lined Ocean Avenue near Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport all day Wednesday, and a steady stream of visitors stopped to take photos. They were paying tribute to former first lady Barbara Bush at the site of the Bush family’s longtime summer home the day after she died at age 92. Sunlight glinted off the water surrounding the family compound and an American flag at half-staff whipped in the wind.

Visitors placed flowers, candles and notes at the base of an anchor statue dedicated to former President George H.W. Bush. Walker’s Point is where Barbara and George were secretly engaged in August 1943, weeks before the future president would leave to fight in World War II as a Navy pilot.

About 30 miles to the north in Portland, tributes and remembrances poured in at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center. The hospital was named for the former first lady in 1995. Barbara Bush lost her 3-year-old daughter, Robin, to childhood leukemia in 1953.


Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, owners of H.B. Provisions in Lower Village Kennebunk, first met the Bushes when they opened their general store in 2002. George and Barbara Bush stopped by “to see what all the hubbub was about,” Thorgalsen said.

In the years to follow, the two couples developed a close friendship that included trips on George Bush’s boat, a visit to Houston and frequent conversations when the Bushes stopped by the store for coffee and doughnuts. They often saw Barbara Bush walking on Gooch’s Beach wearing earbuds as she listened to audio books.


Without fail, Barbara Bush was witty, thoughtful and honest.

“It wouldn’t be beneath her for her to say, ‘It looks like you got a little too much sun,’ ” Thorgalsen said.

“She didn’t sugarcoat anything,” Clement added with a laugh. “She had no filter.”

In 2013, George and Barbara Bush attended Clement and Thorgalsen’s wedding and signed their marriage certificate as witnesses. Photos from the wedding are displayed on a wall of photos of the Bushes at the store.

Clement and Thorgalsen said the love between Barbara Bush and her husband was always plain to see. They often held hands.

“As the years went on, it became more loving and tender,” Clement said of the relationship between George and Barbara Bush. “It meant more to have each other within a hand’s distance.”


National media reported that George H.W. Bush held his wife’s hand in the hours before her death.


Jackson Yordon, owner of local restaurant Salt and Honey in Kennebunkport, stopped by Walker’s Point with his 8-year-old daughter Rachel. She owns a book written by Jenna Bush Hager and signed by Barbara Bush. Rachel Yordon left a note decorated with an American flag for the former first lady.

“I wrote about how she was a wonderful first lady and really kind,” she said.

Jackson Yordon said he cooked for the Bushes multiple times and was always struck by how attentive Barbara was to her husband, requesting “good but soft” food because he could not use a fork and knife.

The first time Yordon met Barbara Bush, she joked about the Secret Service detail assigned to protect her.


“She said, ‘I hope you give me strength so I can beat these guys,’ ” he said.

Yordon, who said her death didn’t hit him until he saw the Walker’s Point flag at half-staff, said Barbara Bush was always dedicated to Kennebunkport and the local businesses.

“She was so important to this community and so fair to all the businesses,” he said.

Cathy Gordon, a local resident, stopped by Walker’s Point at midday to pay her respects to Bush. During the Bushes’ years summering in Kennebunkport, Gordon would see them at church or elsewhere in town.

She said she was always impressed by Barbara Bush’s commitment to local hospitals and gardens, and that she hired so many locals.

“She was a woman to be admired,” Gordon said. “She was the president’s wife, but at the same time she was a woman of her own making.”



Dottie Plouffe drove to Walker’s Point from Wilmington, Massachusetts, with her 10-year-old daughter, Sophie. Plouffe first visited the Bush home as a child with her aunt and uncle, who told her about Barbara Bush’s focus on literacy. Plouffe has since brought nearly all of her 19 nieces and nephews to see Walker’s Point.

Plouffe and her daughter sat on a rocky outcrop overlooking Walker’s Point and talked about Barbara Bush’s literacy platform and why it meant so much to Plouffe.

“It struck a chord in me. I’ve always loved to read and we raised Sophie the same way,” she said.

Plouffe became emotional as she talked about visiting Kennebunkport with her family and how the Bush family must be feeling.

“It’s a profound loss,” she said.


The Plouffes left a bouquet of orange and yellow tulips on the rocks, just out of reach of the waves crashing against the shore.

Jan Dicey, who met the Bushes years ago when they attended services at First Congregational Church of Kennebunkport, was not surprised by the number of people visiting Walker’s Point on Wednesday. She stopped by after attending a funeral service to remember the woman known locally for her “quiet philanthropy” and graciousness.

Dicey said Barbara Bush was “buoyant, fun and appreciative of having the chance to talk to people.”

“She just seemed to be enjoying life,” she said. “It’s a little bit glum in town today. Everyone is a little subdued.”

At the University of New England in Biddeford, Barbara Bush was remembered Wednesday not only for her legacy of supporting literacy and children’s health care initiatives, but also for her interest in students and teachers.

Barbara Bush visited the university frequently over the years, often arriving at the dock on campus after a 30-minute boat ride from Walker’s Point.


“The thing that lit her up was meeting the students,” said UNE President James Herbert, who often hears anecdotes about the conversations she had with students and faculty. “One thing that really stood out and that everyone points to is her deep interest in students and her humility. She never wanted the limelight when she visited.”


In Portland, staff and patients gathered in an atrium at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital to remember the former first lady who for many years stopped by at least once each summer to meet children and read to them.

Barbara Bush had a profound effect on Madison Westrich, 13. The girl from Wiscasset had just finished treatment at the hospital in August 2014 when the former first lady visited and read “Bear Says Thanks” to the assembled children.

“She was very kind, sweet and caring,” said Madison, who gave Barbara Bush a dog leash. “I remember that day I was wearing a shirt that said ‘Dream, Peace, Love’ and Mrs. Bush said those are great words to live by.”

Madison had a benign, golf-ball-sized tumor removed when she was 2 years old, and although healthy now, was in and out of Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital for nine years tending to medical complications.


Joe and Kim Westrich, Madison’s parents, said meeting Barbara Bush inspired them to start a campaign for a specialty Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital license plate, which passed the Legislature this year and likely will be available for purchase this fall. For every $15 plate sold, $10 will be donated to the hospital.

“When we told her we were going to make a license plate with her name on it, she joked, ‘Oh, you’re going to make me famous.’ ” Joe Westrich said.

Kim Westrich said that Bush’s interactions with the children were genuine.

“It was like visiting with your grandmother,” Kim Westrich said. “She set an example for all of us to follow.”

Cheryl Herbert of Scarborough said her daughter, Avery Garrison, who has a rare genetic disease, met Barbara Bush in August 2013, and it was like they were “touched by an angel. I know that sounds corny.”

Avery, 7, was 3 at the time and recovering from open-heart surgery at the hospital. When Bush was reading to the children, Avery interrupted and asked the first lady if she could have the ring on her finger. The ring was given to Barbara Bush by George H.W. Bush 70 years earlier – Cheryl Herbert believes it may have been their engagement ring.


“She said, ‘No you can’t have that ring, but I’ll give you this,’ ” Herbert said, explaining that Bush instead gave Avery a Sandy Hook Promise bracelet commemorating the children murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “To me, it was a sign, a sign of hope for Avery.”

Herbert said her daughter still has daunting medical challenges, but is stable and attending second grade at Blue Point Elementary School in Scarborough.

The hospital had a table of photos of Barbara Bush and a handwritten note from her dated June 26, 1997, that said “God Bless the Children.” Children made decorative tiles for the hospital, and so did Barbara Bush, depicting her signature white hair, pearls and stick drawings of her husband and dog, Millie.

The donations to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital by the Bush family have not been publicly disclosed, but have been “very generous,” hospital officials said. She would visit at least once per year, sometimes twice, and visits scheduled to last 30 minutes would often stretch to two to three hours, as the first lady would visit each child personally.

Jere Michelson, chairman of the Maine Medical Center board of trustees, said the former first lady was extremely important to the hospital and “witty, funny and tenacious.”

“She connected with the staff and patients on a deeply personal level,” Michelson said. “We are going to miss her terribly.”


Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: grahamgillian

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

Twitter: joelawlorph

Comments are no longer available on this story