STRATHAM — As the nation spent the week mourning the death of President George H.W. Bush at age 94, stories about our 41st president and the places that claimed a little part of him, flooded the media.
Count Stratham as one of those places.
During the 1992 presidential campaign, Bush made a January campaign stop in New Hampshire ahead of the primary. Bush was in a relatively uncomfortable position for an incumbent president by having to ward off a primary opponent in commentator Pat Buchanan.
During Bush’s visit, Doug and Stella Scamman, former Republican state legislators and whose involvement with Republican politics dates to the 1960s, received a call from then Gov. Judd Gregg telling them Bush had yet to stop at a farm while campaigning and he wanted to pay the Scammans a visit on a 10-degree day.
“Hugh said we’re not saying anything to anyone because he might not have time to stop on his way to Exeter,” said Doug Scamman, who served as a state representative from Stratham from 1969 to 1990, 2005-06 and 2009-10, said. “It was all advertised as a spontaneous stop so when a newspaper guy asked me later if it was spontaneous and I said, ‘yep, it was a semi-spontaneous possibility.’”
In what became known as a “semi-spontaneous” campaign stop with Doug’s words immortalized on a political factoid tear-off desk calendar from 1995; he said Gregg told him he was in charge above the Secret Service; choreographing the president’s visit to the farm and asked Scamman to have a cow outside their farm’s main gate in front of the people in line waiting to greet Bush.
“We had the cow outside the gate and our son was 16 years old and the Secret Service comes over and tells him to put the cow on the other side of the fence where it belongs,” Doug said. “Our son took the cow back because they’re Secret Service and you don’t cross them.”
“Then, Gov. Gregg says, I want the cow here,” said Stella, who was a state representative from 2003-06 and 2009-10. “So Doug tells our son Bruce to bring the cow back out, he didn’t know what to do.”
When Bush finally arrived to shake hands with a crowd of supporters at the farm, the eyes of the political world were upon him. However, the photo-op gave another Scamman family member, their daughter Kim’s 4-H cow, Holiday, her 15 seconds of fame.
“(Kim) had come for Christmas after she graduated from college, then left the next day to drive to Colorado to meet a friend to go skiing,” Stella said. “So when President Bush’s visit to the farm was shown on the news that night, she was sitting in a bar and screamed out, ‘That’s my cow!’ Everyone must’ve thought she was crazy but she called us later that night to say she saw us all on the news.”
Stella looked back on that day and could not believe the media circus one brief appearance at their farm turned into.
“(Portsmouth Ave.) was completely shut down between Bunker Hill Road and Frying Pan Lane and there are all these buses for the media following President Bush,” Scamman said. “There was this line of traffic stopping out front, it was brutally cold, the cow was drooling and some of it was getting on the president and he had someone brushing it off. It was an interesting scene.”
The Scamman’s relationship with the Bush family dates back to the 1980 presidential campaign when Bush squared off against the eventual Republican nominee Ronald Reagan. Stella helped organize a meet and greet with Barbara Bush over coffee.
With Bush serving as Reagan’s vice president and making regular trips to his home in Kennebunkport, Maine, during the summer, the Scammans asked Bush to speak at their daughter Kim’s 1987 graduation from Exeter High School. Bush agreed and the visit coincided with his birthday, so he invited the Scamman family to join him for dinner in Exeter.
With his passing, Stella said Bush was the right president for a unique time in world history; the Cold War came to an end and America was finding its new role as the world’s lone superpower.
“He had very high principles, he was very patriotic and he was very thoughtful of the whole world around him,” she said. “The Bush family did not have a superiority complex; they didn’t feel that they were different than anyone else. President Bush was a great communicator and he cared about what you had to say.”
Though Bush lost his bid for a second term in 1992, Doug said Bush should be remembered as a politician who was bold enough to cross the ideology of his party to put needs of the people first.