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Michael Patrick Shiels
Michael Patrick Shiels

Barbara Bush

April 20, 2018

“It’s a beautiful night. Let’s take a walk around…and then we’re off to bed,” said First Lady Barbara Bush after a quiet, private dinner in the White House with her husband President George H.W. Bush and their friends Ken and Anne Raynor, who were visiting from Kennebunkport. Mrs. Bush then briefly excused herself.

“President Bush, Anne and I found ourselves waiting for Mrs. Bush while standing with a White House steward who would take us down in the elevator to ground level for our walk,” Raynor recalls.

“Bar,” President Bush called out to his wife, “Where are ya? Where are ya?”

A woman then came out of the President’s residence bedroom calling out, “Has anybody seen Barbara Bush? Anyone know where Barbara Bush is?” The woman was the First Lady herself…wearing a rubber Barbara Bush Halloween mask!

“The steward was laughing hysterically, as was President Bush, at the sight of the real Barbara Bush wearing a Barbara Bush mask in the White House residence,” says Raynor. “Anne and I were grinning from ear to ear when Mrs. Bush then walked directly to a Secret Service officer wearing the mask and calling out again, ‘Anybody seen Barbara Bush?’”

Barbara Bush, in 2017, wrote the foreword for Raynor’s book “I Call Him Mr. President – Stories of Golf, Fishing, and Life with my Friend George H.W. Bush. I co-authored the book with Raynor and have been fortunate to be with the former First Lady on a number of occasions in Maine – most recently in October, when she and the former President attended our book launch event in Kennebunkport, where the Bush family has summered for a century.

“When our dear friend Ken asked me to write this foreword –for a book about fishing and golf, of all things– to be perfectly honest I thought he had lost his mind. After all, I know absolutely nothing about fishing . . . except that it usually takes a long time,” Mrs. Bush wrote. “And as for golf, I think I maybe I shot under 100 one time, and that was thanks to Ken’s patient tutoring. So no expertise there either.”

Mrs. Bush knew the book was really about friendship and she features prominently in it, especially when it came to the title, according to Raynor.

“One Sunday afternoon, while I was in casual conversation with Mrs. Bush at a quiet gathering at their home on Walker’s Point, she asked, ‘Kenny, I’m curious. What do you call him?’” 

Raynor said he asked Mrs. Bush what she meant.

“She turned and looked up at me from under the shade of the brim of her big, pink gardening hat.

‘After all this time and all these years of friendship with George, what do you call him?’

I answered ‘Bar’ sincerely and simply: I call him ‘Mr. President.’ He’s like my second dad. So out of respect I would not call my father by his first name either. It’s not how I was raised. So out of respect for my parents, and for President Bush, my ‘second dad,’ I don’t call him ‘George.’”

Mrs. Bush nodded with understanding.

Raynor and I both spoke from the stage at the Kennebunkport book launch presentation of “I Call Him Mr. President,” and Mrs. Bush participated, too. Before I handed my microphone to Mrs. Bush at her seat next to former President Bush, I read one of the celebrity sidebars in the book. It was one I’d solicited from country music star Larry Gatlin:

Dear Mr. President,

I wish that you or any of your sons or George P. were the President of the United States right now. On second thought, I kinda wish Mrs. B were the President of the United States right now. She would REALLY kick some rear end.

I love you all.

Keep the Faith,

Larry 

The first time I met Mrs. Bush was at an intimate house party in Maine. When, during our conversation, a photographer approached and posed us for a photo, she quickly, before the flash, tore the name tag sticker off my lapel.

“I think you know who you are. You don’t need this,” she said.

Last summer, when we posed for another photo, just before the click of the lens, Mrs. Bush quickly removed her slender oxygen breathing tube draped under her nose.

On another occasion, in a similar casual setting, I asked Mrs. Bush about her 70+ year marriage to her husband George.

“What’s the secret to a long marriage? How did you two do it?”

Mrs. Bush looked at me with a quizzical expression and answered plainly, “We didn’t have a choice.”

It was a logical, old-fashioned, till death do us part answer which reminded me the Bushes were from the greatest generation of heroes in fighting wars and saving marriages.

Young newlyweds George and Barbara Bush lived in Trenton, Michigan during the Second World War when the future President learned to be a naval aviator at the Grosse Ile Air Station.

“Barbara Bush lived in an upper flat on an ordinary street called Parkwood when he was training. It was unique that someone of privilege who came from a very wealthy family was tucked away there in Trenton, Michigan as a border with the Gorgone family,” said Pat Andrews, a longtime reporter and columnist with the Downriver Area’s News Herald Newspapers. “Mrs. Bush maintained a long friendship with the Gorgones and even invited them to the Presidential inauguration in 1989.”

Andrews, who met Mrs. Bush through the Gorgones during the campaign, said, “Barbara Bush put people at ease…with some occasional irony thrown in.”

When I introduced my nervous mother Gladys, who lives in Trenton, to Mrs. Bush, “Bar” was so sincere and enthusiastic that she put my mother at such ease.

“Your pearls are beautiful,” my mother told her.

“Oh these? These are fakes, dear,” said Mrs. Bush. “I could never have real pearls like these.”

As my mother laughed Mrs. Bush continued, “Come to think of it, there are a lot of fake things on this 91-year old body. When I get to heaven God won’t even recognize me.”

By the time my mother got back to Michigan two days later, a two-page, hand- written thank you letter from Mrs. Bush, recounting elements of their conversation, had already arrived for her.

This past June, I interviewed the 43rd President, George W. Bush live on my statewide radio program “Michigan’s Big Show.” We sat on the porch of Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, where Mrs. Bush has played decades of summertime golf.

“Any time you’re in Maine with your family it’s a prescription for joy,” he told me before referring to the health scares his parents, both in their 90’s, endured over the previous winter. “For a while I didn’t think I was going to be able to see my parents again here in Maine, but they have defied expectations. They’re very resilient people. So Maine is a joyful place.”

There is mourning in Kennebunkport at the passing of Mrs. Bush and there will undoubtedly be people and tourists laying flowers at “Ganny’s Garden,” which was created as a public tribute to her, according to Raynor.

“Since Mrs. Bush loved her gardening, the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust offered a lovely spot right on the Village Green in front of the Captain Lord Mansion bed and breakfast across from Arundel Yacht Club and within blocks of Dock Square – the center of Kennebunkport,” Raynor wrote in “I Call Him Mr. President.”

“Since all of her grandchildren call her ‘Ganny,’ it was obvious we should name it ‘Ganny’s Garden.’ And again, as we had for the anchor site, in secret, we created the garden. The grandkids’ initials are engraved in random spots on the garden’s small stone walls, which surround colorful flower beds and planted trees – one for each grandchild – around the garden. A stone pathway winds through and leads to a commemorative plaque and a bench upon which a bronzed, straw sun hat – the type Mrs. Bush is known to wear – sits near a bronzed copy of her favorite book, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (also a nod to her efforts to promote literacy), left as if she’d just been there.”

You can see a pair of her mismatched Ked sneakers next to the bench, too.

“She liked to wear two different colored Keds at one time. It’s become her fun trademark, but surely it is difficult for her to match them up since she may, by now, have been given more pairs than Imelda Marcos!” Raynor wrote.

“On the September, 2011 morning of what was again to be a surprise dedication, Bar went off, with her aide, to get her hair done. On the way back from the hair salon, she could not proceed because Ocean Ave. had been blocked off with a tent on the Village Green. Bar got out of the car and wondered what was going on? Quickly she was escorted to her seat for the ceremony. Like her husband has been, she was clearly startled and moved. She was also playfully mad at her personal aide for not clueing her in that this was happening so she could have her customary four strings of pearls and proper attire on. She was concerned she was dressed inappropriately. Of course nobody cared at all – they just loved her so much and were thrilled to be part of the ceremony. Nevertheless, her friend and Kennebunkport neighbor Alicia Spenlinhauer gave Bar her necklace to wear.”

The plaque in the garden reads:

In honor of Barbara Pierce Bush

First Lady of the United States

Family Literacy Advocate

Devoted Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Friend

Volunteer and philanthropic work is a lot like planting peonies, you may not see the results right away but you are planting seeds which will one day sprout and bloom forever.”  -Barbara Bush

Dedicated by those who admire this singular woman and her countless contributions to our world.”

If you visit Kennebunkport, Captain Lord Mansion offers quaint luxury lodging on the same lawn as Ganny’s Garden; the snazzy, boutique Boathouse Waterfront Hotel, is in the heart of the upper village and Dock Square shopping and dining area, with balconies and an outdoor deck at David’s KPT restaurant. In the lower village, guests enjoy a classic, New England “bed-and-breakfast” called the Inn at English Meadows. The Colony Hotel hosts the George H.W. Bush Celebrity Golf Gala each June. Kennebunkport is a 30-minute drive from Portland, Maine Jetport. Delta Airlines offers direct flights from Detroit.

Michael Patrick Shiels hosts a capital-based, award-winning, syndicated morning radio program broadcast across Michigan. For a list of affiliate stations or podcasts see MiBigShow.com. He may be contacted at MShiels@aol.com

April 19, 2018 · Filed under Shiels

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tom Brady // Apr 20, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    Very nice article Michael!

  • 2 john wharton // Apr 27, 2018 at 9:11 am

    It is a shame that grace seems to be passing out of vogue with each of the deaths of beautiful individuals like Barbara Bush.


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