Across the nation, George H.W. Bush is remembered as a war hero, a man who negotiated to bring the Cold War to an end and the fall of the Berlin Wall as the country’s 41st president, an unparalleled leader, and above all, a good man and truly great American.
Here, in Kennebunkport and our surrounding communities, it's almost impossible to put into words what George H.W. Bush, and his First Lady Barbara, have meant to us. We have been lucky to know the former president in a personal way, as our friend and neighbor. Our hearts are broken with his death on Friday, Nov. 30 at the age of 94, just eight months after the loss of Barbara.
For Bush, the seaside town of Kennebunkport, and Walker’s Point, the Bush family summer home, were his “anchor to windward.” It’s here that he spent every summer of his life but one – the summer of 1944 when he was shot down in the Pacific as a naval aviator during World War II.
Kennebunkport “has always been a part of my life – a place where our big, close family has always come together surrounded by good friends and wonderful townspeople,” Bush told the Boston Globe in 2017. “In that sense, Kennebunkport has been my anchor to windward through a full and challenging life. It has kept me grounded and focused on what is really important.”
Bush, as one community member described, “put Kennebunkport on the map,” sharing the town with people from all over the world and giving locals a special window into history. He also taught us lessons of humility, caring, and the spirit of community. In the days since his passing, community members have shared their own stories of President Bush. Locals fondly remember their encounters with the former President around town, playing rounds of golf at the Cape Arundel golf course, enjoying dinner at a local restaurant, or watching the Fidelity roar across the ocean.
We remember with pride the President enjoying, and often speaking at Kennebunkport’s Memorial Day parade and ceremonies. We remember he and former First Lady Barbara Bush joining the community in May of 2017 to rededicate the Mathew J. Lanigan Bridge, which connects Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, after its reconstruction. We remember the joy of watching him parachute out of an airplane, landing on the grounds of St. Anne’s Church, as he celebrated his 90th birthday. We remember the kind and empathetic man who shaved his head in July of 2013 in support of a young boy, the son of one of his Secret Service agents, who was battling leukemia. He identified with the boy’s struggle having lost his and Barbara’s daughter Robin to leukemia when she was three years old.
While some locals traveled to Washington to pay their respects to the former president, community members here will pay tribute to Bush at the Dock Square tree lighting on Friday, Dec. 7, counting down from “41” in his honor. A fireworks display will follow the 5:30 p.m. tree lighting, lighting “up the night with ‘a thousand points of light’ to pay homage to 41, who meant so very much to our community,” the Kennebunkport Business Association said.
An informal memorial service will be held at one of the Bush family’s favorite local places, Gooch’s Beach, at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Community members are invited to bring families and four-legged friends and wear colorful socks, and to share their stories and memories to send off our beloved "41."
Goodbye, Mr. President. Thank you for your years of service and for the special time we’ve shared with you. It was an honor. Your legacy will carry on here, in the community you cherished as your “anchor to windward.”