Barbara Pierce Bush, who died Tuesday at 92, is being remembered today as the wife of one president and the mother of another, a public figure with over 50 years in the spotlight.

In Maine, however, we will remember her in a different role: The classic longtime summer resident who leaves part of themselves behind every fall when they have to pack up for home.

Mainers are famously slow to accept outsiders, but through her toughness, generosity and warmth, Mrs. Bush proved that she was no outsider. She didn’t just visit Maine, she lived here – even if it was only for part of the year.

Her first visit to Kennebunkport was in 1943, when she was the 17-year-old secret fiancée of 19-year-old George H.W. Bush. In the many summers that followed, Mrs. Bush got involved with communities and institutions she could have easily ignored if she had been just a tourist.

The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland is the best-known testament to her generosity. The George and Barbara Bush Center at the University of New England in Biddeford is another. Many Maine children will always remember being read to by the former first lady, who visited their schools to promote the cause of literacy education, a lifelong passion.

The Bushes stayed out of local politics for the most part, but they were generous with their time and home, giving exposure to Republican nominees for state offices. In 2014, Mrs. Bush made a dramatic and effective break with the family’s own rule by recording a television ad for Gov. LePage while he was locked in a tight re-election campaign. The governor, she said, “is blunt and direct – like me.”


There is nothing in the Constitution that describes the role of a president’s family, but everybody can see that it is a tough job. As head of government, the president has to engage in partisan warfare. But as head of state, presidents and their families have to represent the entire nation at important ceremonies, both at home and abroad.

And unlike royal heads of state in other countries, America’s first family is expected to graciously step aside when its time at the top is done, whether they were ready to move on or not.

We join the Bush family in mourning the passing of a woman who excelled in all of those roles: Barbara Bush was a fierce partisan with sharp elbows; she was a regal presence who represented the American people with great dignity; and when her husband lost his campaign for re-election, she gave her country and the world a textbook lesson in how a peaceful transfer of power is supposed to look.

Mrs. Bush brought her ferocity, dignity, sense of duty and sense of humor to her second home on the coast of Maine for 74 summers. We’re sorry she won’t be coming back this year.

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