“Better to have the king’s ear than to be the king,” the old adage advises. And for former President George W. Bush, that ear was his father, the 41st U.S. President George H.W. Bush. Nowadays, former President Bush, who recently turned 91 years old, can relax in his post-presidency. It’s the best job imaginable, affording all of the respect and courtesy, but none of the day-to-day burden of responsibility.
Photo Credit: Zollernalb/Eigene Arbeit/WikiMedia Common
Today, the 41st president resides in Kennebunkport, Maine, a tiny, seaside village where members of the extended Bush family hide in plain sight all summer long. Their Walker’s Point home, a compound of houses built on a small, rocky peninsula jutting into the Atlantic, has long been a tourist attraction from a distance. It is visible from the scenic Ocean Ave. across a small, sometimes turbulent cove featuring the aptly named Spouting Rock and Blowing Cave.
Though a plainly visible Secret Service gatehouse ensures only Bush family members and authorized guests set foot on Walker’s Point, visitors will often pull over to take photographs. On the property is a large ship anchor monument dedicated to former President Bush that reads, “An Anchor to Windward. As he was for our nation and our world during four years of tumultuous change, so, too, has Kennebunkport served, in the words of St. Paul, ‘As an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast,’ to him.”
Photo Credit: Ganny's Garden
Former First Lady Barbara Bush, was also given a tribute for visitors to see and touch called Ganny’s Garden. It is a flower and fauna filled respite which includes bronze books (to commemorate her efforts to promote literacy) alongside her bronzed hat and famed Ked sneakers. Look for other symbols placed in Ganny’s Garden, which is on the Village Green in front of Captain Lord Mansion, a very romantic inn operated by civic leader Rick Litchfield and his wife Bev.
Beyond the monuments, what are your chances of a Presidential encounter? “The former president and first lady are pretty visible in restaurants here in Kennbunkport. You usually would not see him in the shops and boutiques and art galleries, but in restaurants, sure,” said Litchfield. “Very frequently I’ll be talking to our guests and one will say, ‘Oh, we had dinner with George and Barbara last night!’ which really means that George and Barbara and their Secret Service entourage were in the same restaurant.”
Photo Credit: Rococo Artisan Ice Cream
What is the protocol if you should find yourself in the company of the Bushes? “George is very convivial. He’ll shake hands with people. He doesn’t necessarily give autographs, but he will greet people in the restaurants, which is really quite a nice thing,” remarked Litchfield. “He is genuinely a nice person. I’ve met him on occasion at functions in the Kennebunks here and he truly is a man of good character and warm sensibilities. He truly is a wonderful elder statesman for the United States.”
Desperate Housewives’ Teri Hatcher was among the notables who attended Barbara Bush’s 90th birthday bash at the River Club. As a thank you gift, Hatcher decided to send ice cream, stopping into Rococo Artisan Ice Cream, one of the many eclectic storefronts, souvenir shops, boutiques and galleries which comprise Kennebunkport’s Dock Square shopping area. “It’s one thing to have Teri Hatcher place an order. It’s another to have to deliver it to a house full of presidents,” laughed Lauren Guptill, Rococo’s owner and ice-cream maker. Rococo’s slogan is “ice cream without borders,” and Guptill ships her culinary creations nationwide. Flavors such as Strawberry Basil, Sweet Avocado Cayenne and Goat Cheese Blackberry Chambord are not only hard to find, they’re apparently impossible to forget!
Photo Credit: Cape Arundel Golf Club
Lana Wescott plans unforgettable weddings that light up the town’s social calendar, many of them at scenic and historic St. Ann’s Episcopal Church. This is another spot where visitors are likely to see the president and first lady or members of their family, particularly Doro Bush Koch. In addition to the church, there is a permanent, outdoor, ocean-side altar used Sundays at 8 a.m. The grassy outdoor area, just down the street from Walker’s Point, served as the landing spot for President Bush’s famed parachute jumps to celebrate his 85th and 90th birthdays.
Presidential gifts, souvenirs, and rounds of golf, are also available at Bush’s beloved Cape Arundel Golf Club, founded in 1896, which is virtually a family heirloom, having hosted generations of Bushes. George’s father Prescott was a U.S. Senator who’d served as President of the United States Golf Association, while his grandfather George Herbert Walker, served as USGA president in 1920 and founded the Walker Cup matches. The 41st and 43rd Presidents have hosted the 42nd President Bill Clinton here and President Nixon is also known to have played Cape Arundel, which welcomes public play. While George H.W. doesn’t play golf anymore, he does visit the course and its charming yet underwhelming clubhouse now dubbed “#41 House” in his honor, as does his son Jeb, in between campaigning.
Photo Credit: Cape Arundel Golf Club
If you plan to spot Jeb, you’d better get there early, though. “Governor Bush gets here just after sunrise and by 8 a.m. he’s on his way back to Walker’s Point,” says Ken Raynor, Cape Arundel’s longtime head golf professional and member of the Maine Golf Hall of Fame. Raynor works closely with Wescott each June to present the George H.W. Bush Cape Arundel Celebrity Golf Classic to benefit Gary’s House, a family comfort facility at Portland’s Mercy Hospital. In the welcoming tradition of the club and the Bushes, the event, and its charity gala and auction, are open to the public and often provide glimpses of the Bushes or chances to bid on presidential memorabilia. PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson holds the current course record of 60 according to Raynor, who once held the record himself.
If you happen to visit Kennebunkport and not spot any of the Bushes, the Kennebunkport Historical Society presents the “First Families Museum” on Maine St. in the White Columns Building. Saxony Imports shop a very short walk away in Dock Square also has presidential souvenir hats, shirts, glasses, postcards and novelties, some with a sense of presidential whimsy. The Bushes reside in Kennebunkport only in the summer months, but with New England’s vibrant fall colors and ocean-moderated winter temperatures, it can be a romantic year-round destination.