PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Former first lady Barbara Bush is being remembered in Maine for her promotion of literacy, her welcoming ways and her sense of humor.
Bush was the wife of former President George H.W. Bush and the mother of former President George W. Bush. She recently declined medical treatment for health problems and died Tuesday at home in Houston at age 92.
Bush loomed large in Kennebunkport, where the family’s stone-and-shingle home at Walker’s Point on the rocky coast has been a summer focal point.
As first lady, she created the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, which has raised millions. Maine Medical Center named its children’s hospital in her honor. A local garden bears her name. For her 90th birthday, the former first lady enjoyed a gala featuring family, friends and special guests like Reba McEntire.
“I attribute my oldest daughter’s life to the generous gift Barbara Bush bestowed upon the Children’s Hospital in Portland,” Corey Heaward, 31, of New Brunswick, tweeted. “I was a scared father of a very sick 10 day old and they all took great care of us. I will forever be indebted to Mrs. Bush. Rest peacefully my hero.”
Family and friends, as well as political figures like Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett praised Bush for her charitable spirit and contributions to the state.
“They’re just so wonderful and they can’t do enough for people,” said Evelyn Paine, a longtime friend of the Bushes, who have several pieces of Paine’s husband’s artwork. “They’re going to be terribly missed here, terribly missed.”
LePage said that he and his wife, Ann, send their condolences.
“Mainers hold a special place in our hearts for President and Mrs. Bush, and we will treasure our memories of her time spent in our state,” he said. “She will be missed.”
Collins said she has treasured visiting the Bushes at their Kennebunkport home for more than 20 years.
“Barbara Bush was a great First Lady, a terrific advocate for literary programs and the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, and a strong woman who loved her family, the state of Maine and our county,” she said.
George H.W. Bush has been to Kennebunkport every summer since childhood, with the exception of World War II, when he was a naval aviator.
The media followed his every move as he hosted world leaders, jogged on the beach, went to the local golf club and fished from his speed boat when Kennebunkport served as the “summer White House.”
Bush was just as vibrant a presence in the community, even though he and his wife took a more low-key approach to life by the sea.
Over the years, many locals spent time with them at Walker’s Point for cocktail parties, dinners and cookouts. They did not want anyone to feel excluded. So, several years back, they issued an invitation to new neighbors who had not been out for a visit to come on over, Paine said.
The idea was to ensure that old-timers like the Bushes and newcomers all got to know each other. Paine said a local church plans to hold a celebration of Barbara Bush’s life this summer.
“She was a woman of great faith,” Paine said. “I think that counts a whole lot.”
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