Everyone who has lived in Kennebunkport for several years has a Barbara Bush story to tell, many have a photo to post from an encounter with Mrs. Bush. Our famous first lady made the rounds about town, walked her dogs on the beach, shopped locally, dined at favorites like Mabel’s, attended church at St Ann’s, and frequented fundraisers. She was classy, kind, indulgent of photos when asked, funny and friendly.
Barbara Bush is already greatly missed in Kennebunkport, but her legacy lives on at Walkers Point, and at her favorite spots in The Port and Kennebunk.
From our observations about town, here are a few of Barbara Bush’s places in Kennebunkport, where you might feel our favorite First Lady’s presence.
#1 Walkers Point on Ocean Avenue, also known as the Bush Compound. This majestic peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean is an iconic landmark in Kennebunkport. Dubbed the “Summer White House” it has been the family home to the Bush family for generations now. You can park along Ocean Ave, by the Anchor to Windward tribute gifted from the townspeople of Kennebunkport to President Bush, locals call him #41. Pause here, take a picture and watch the waves crash into the shore. You’ll see why the Bush family loves it here.
#2 Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk on Beach Ave, was a favorite place for Mrs. Bush to walk with her dogs. Even when she required a walker, outfitted with big beach tires, she’d still come stroll the beach, dogs in tow. In fact her dogs, Mini Me and Bebe – Maltipoos, are featured in Bob Dennis’ book “Gooches Pooches.”
#3 Mabel’s Lobster Claw – long a top spot for the Bush family to dine. This classic casual seafood restaurant on Ocean Ave even has a nook they call the “B table” where the President and First Lady liked to sit.
#4 Graves Memorial Library – Barbara Bush didn’t just promote literacy as her 1st lady platform. She read avidly, to herself, her children and grandchildren and to local Kennebunkport kids. She appeared and volunteered at Graves, as a “celebratory guest reader”. I first met Mrs. Bush here, in the upstairs Children’s Reading Room. Imagine my surprise, walking in to story hour with my two kids in tow, ages 3 and 4, to find our First Lady seated with a book in her lap ready to entertain my daughter and son, along with a handful of other fortunate children. We moms were a bit star-struck, but we behaved ourselves (with grace and dignity – emulating her) for the sake of the children. Our kids just thought having the former First Lady reading to them was “normal” and no big deal!
#5 The Nonantum – for various fundraisers. The Bush family are not just generous with their civic service and political commitment, they are also very philanthropic. Mrs. Bush would often appear at local fundraisers held at The Nonantum Resort. She always rocked that gorgeous white hair, matching pearls, and often comfy Keds. One evening, she arrived to see us all in black tie attire, she commented with a laugh, “those darn protocol people don’t always get it right.” I think everyone found her pant suit and pearls to be perfectly suited, and I told her so, she laughed. She always looked stylish, classic, not overdone, just right!
#6 The Colony Hotel in June. President George H. W. Bush and Barbara would always turn out for the namesake George H. W. Bush Celebrity Golf Classic, which includes a day of team golf at Cape Arundel Golf Course followed by cocktails, a fundraising auction and a Gala dinner at this landmark hotel to benefit Gary’s House – a home-away-from-home for families with sick kids in Portland hospitals. Each year, one recipient receives the 1,000 Points of Light award, in honor of President Bush and his iconic expression. Another highlight of this annual golf event in Kennebunkport is the sports celebs that turn up, Patriots Tom Brady, Rob Gronokowski, and Troy Brown, Red Sox Luis Tiant and Jim Lombord, even actress Terri Hatcher, and The Gatlin Brothers – enough name dropping… I had you at “Barbara Bush.”
#7 Stripers at The Breakwater Inn & Spa is among the most scenic setting for drinks and dinner in Kennebunkport, if not the Bush compound. The Bush family love to come to Stripers, often dining in a private room with a fantastic river view at sunset, but they would welcome the shake of hands and photos on their arrival and departure.
#8 Ganny’s Garden on the River Green in front of Captain Lord Mansion is a serene and beautiful setting, with Barbara’s trademark sneakers and sun hat, and her favorite book “Pride and Prejudice” cast in bronze. Surrounded by 17 trees, one for each grandchild, and their initials engraved in stone– it’s a heartwarming tribute to her love of family – they call her Ganny. This garden was dedicated to Barbara Bush in 2011, thanks to the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust.
#9 White Columns – The Bush First Family Exhibit. The Kennebunkport Hisotrical Society has a photo-filled museum tribute of the Bush family, of our 41st President and First Lady’s time in the Oval Office, and their time in Kennebunkport. Visit this beautiful display on Maine Street in the Nott House.
#10 Memorial Day Parade in Kennebunkport – Every May, locals look forward to the Memorial Day Parade in Dock Square, and especially hope to see the Bush’s. This Yankee parade is a hoot complete with firetrucks, school marching bands, veterans, twirlers, girl and boy scouts. Having a former President and First Lady front row made it even more of a slice of American apple pie. Mrs. Bush will be missed at future parades, she was always dressed in patriotic red, white and blue. To say we’ll be a bit blue without her presence is true.
Treasure your time in Kennebunkport, and keep a little of Barbara Bush’s grace, humor, style and strength with you always. As she would say:
“Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people – your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers.”
~ Barbara Bush, June 8, 1925 – April 17, 2018
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