KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine (AP) — His home on the rocky coast is former President George H.W. Bush’s happy place, chock full of sea-sprayed memories of boating, golfing, family and friends.
But this summer there’s a different feel as he arrives without his wife of 73 years.
The nation’s 41st president arrived Sunday at Walker’s Point, where he spends his summers, a little over a month after the funeral of his wife, Barbara, in Texas.
“We’re so pleased to have President Bush back at the place that he loves so much. He’s ours for the summer,” said Ken Raynor, local golf pro and longtime family friend, who attended Barbara Bush’s funeral in Texas. “We’re going to cherish the time that we have with him in Maine.”
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Bush, 93 was eager to get to Maine after enduring the death of his wife and then falling ill with a blood infection that landed him in the hospital.
He has visited the family compound at Walker’s Point for part of every summer since childhood, with the exception of his time as a naval aviator in World War II. He and Barbara Pierce married in 1945, and theirs became the longest-enduring marriage of any U.S. president.
“I imagine he will feel that half of him is missing for the rest of his life,” said his spokesman, Jim McGrath. “But that said, there is no quit in this man. Life goes on, and for George Bush life is to be lived with joy — especially when he is in Maine.”
Walker’s Point was always the summer hub of activity for the Bush family with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren coming and going. The Bushes also have played hosts to world leaders like Francois Mitterrand, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Things are slower than in the past.
These days, the president who once celebrated birthdays by jumping out of airplanes uses a wheelchair because he suffers from a form of Parkinson’s disease.
Some are worried about the elder statesman, but they note that he’ll be surrounded by family and friends, which will boost his spirits.
“Family has always been George Bush’s highest priority,” McGrath said. “He gains great strength, and joy, from his large and supportive family. They have each other’s back.”
The Bush family is beloved around here, and people worry about his health and his heartbreak.
Evelyn Paine, a longtime friend, had a pained look on her face when she discussed seeing her old friend without his wife. She can’t imagine dining out at Mabel’s Lobster Claw without both of them.
But, she said, George H.W. Bush is a strong man surrounded by a loving family, and that’ll go a long way toward easing the pain of his loss.
“Gracious. That’s the word to describe the entire family,” she said. “Every last one of them. They’re just the best.”