KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine (AP) — Former President George H.W. Bush was known for his jogs along the rocky Maine coast, playing fast-paced golf, fishing in his speedboat and transforming his home in this seaside village into the “Summer White House.” He also built lasting friendships in the town that he’d visited since he was a boy.
Bush, who died Friday at age 94, goes way back in Kennebunkport.
The three-story, stone-and-shingle home at Walker’s Point has been in the family since the turn of the century, and the former president spent every summer there since boyhood except when he served as a Navy aviator in World War II.
While president from 1989 to 1993, Bush hosted world leaders such as French President Francois Mitterand, British Prime Minister John Major and Jordan’s King Hussein at Walker’s Point. He didn’t let Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 stop a summer visit in which he oversaw the building of an international coalition that toppled the invaders.
Bush described the seaside compound as a place where he found peace. Inside, he kept a plaque that was engraved with the letters “CAVU,” the acronym for perfect flying weather, “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited.”
“This is where he came to be with his family, to be at peace. He has nothing but a smile on his face when he’s in Kennebunkport,” William “Spike” Heminway, a golfing buddy and friend, told The Associated Press before his death in 2013. “He loved getting out on the ocean. The ocean did more for him than anything else in the world.”
Ken Raynor, a golf pro and family friend, said Bush enjoyed leaving the spotlight and returning to his oceanfront home, built by Bush’s grandfather.
“He had an incredible robust passion for life and sharing it with us. It blows us all away how he embraced friendships with all of us,” Raynor said. “The memories will last forever.”
In Kennebunkport, Bush and his wife, Barbara , who died in April, were known as down-to-earth people who always had a friendly wave for neighbors.
After an outing at Cape Arundel Golf Club, the former president would grab a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice at Patten’s Farm Stand. He was fond of peanut butter ice cream pie at Mabel’s Lobster Claw Restaurant, and he bought ice cream by the tub for his grandchildren.
After leaving office, he continued to divide his time between his summer home in Kennebunkport and his primary residence in Houston, keeping a low profile, except when he jumped from aircraft for his 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays, the latter two in Kennebunkport. For his 90th birthday jump, Bush had to overcome the objections of his doctor and his family before being allowed to make a tandem parachute jump from a helicopter.
“Just because you’re an old guy, you don’t have to sit around drooling in the corner,” Bush once said.
While president, Bush was known for his lightning pace, once finishing a round of golf in an hour and 57 minutes because he wanted to get back to the office. He also was competitive on the tennis court and enjoyed playing horseshoes.
Stephen Spenlinhauer, a boating buddy, remembers a good-natured and spontaneous friend who encouraged him to jump off his dock into the cold North Atlantic Ocean, forced guests to hang on for dear life as he gunned the engines on his speed boat, and once invited a veteran and his new wife honeymooning in Kennebunkport to go swimming with him.
“He’d go from the moment he picked his head up off the pillow to the time he went to sleep,” Spenlinhauer said.
In recent years, Bush had been using a wheelchair and a scooter because of vascular parkinsonism, a neurological condition that affected him below the waist, making it difficult for him to control his legs. He’d also suffered other health scares that landed him in the hospital. In 2015, he fractured a bone in his neck when he took a spill inside his home.
He was hospitalized for a week in 2018, shortly after arriving in Maine without his wife of 73 years. But he also attended the wedding of his granddaughter Barbara, named for her grandmother, and celebrated his 94th birthday while in Kennebunkport.
Bush’s relationship with Kennebunkport figured prominently in the HBO documentary “41.” Filmmaker Jeffrey Roth said the rejuvenating power of Bush’s oceanfront home was part of the key to understanding him.
“This is our anchor to the windward,” the former president said. “This is where our memories are. This is where I’ve been coming all my life and will remain to our last days.”
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