President George Herbert Walker Bush and first lady Barbara Bush were fond of saying that their Kennebunkport home was their “anchor to windward.”

By this they meant that the town had been a constant in their lives, and the lives of generations of Bushes; a place where they could always return to in their busy, fishbowl existence. For those of us who live in Kennebunkport, President Bush and his family have long been the anchor of this small community, whatever your political stripe.

In many ways, they put us on the map. Walker’s Point, the jutting spit of land and rock that harbors the family compound, is a popular tourist site, with cars lined up on Ocean Avenue at all times of the year to see the weathered home across the small private inlet, hoping to catch a glimpse of its famous residents.

Of course, the big attraction in town was the Bushes themselves, and for many years they were a regular part of our summer community. Barbara walked her dog on Gooch’s beach.

And it wasn’t unusual to catch the president fishing from his cigarette boat or playing a round of golf at Cape Arundel Golf Club. Afterward he would drop into Patten’s Berry Farm for a tall bottle of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Sundays they might attend services at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church.

My most memorable experience with the president took place in 1997, at the University of New England’s medical school graduation. He was the featured speaker. I was the school’s communications director, responsible for the script and photography. For the most part, I was invisible, working behind the scenes. The president’s remarks were good, a nice balance of seriousness and humor, and the Merrill Auditorium audience was happy to have a person of such high stature commemorating their special day.


When graduation was over, the president, who was being whisked away by the Secret Service, suddenly stopped, turned, and walked back across the stage – toward me. He extended his hand and said something to the effect of “job well done.” I don’t remember his exact words, as I was too stunned. “Thank you, sir,” I think I said. He smiled and returned to his escort.

The last time I saw the Bushes was at the Ogunquit Playhouse. President Bush was in a wheelchair. When president and Mrs. Bush were introduced, the crowd burst into applause, then a standing ovation. It was inspiring to witness the community’s great affection for this couple. It was heartbreaking to see such a vigorous man diminished by age and infirmity. But it was the first lady who died first in April of this year, the president’s formidable, forthright partner of 73 years.

That President Bush vowed to make America a “kinder, gentler nation” tells us something about the kinder, gentler side of his own nature.

A man of the sea, the president has pulled anchor and set sail on his final voyage. May the wind be at his back. We’ll miss him.


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