Kennebunkport remembers its famous resident and marks ‘a chapter closed’
KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — After her grandfather, former president George H.W. Bush, died Friday night, Ellie LeBlond Sosa said she considered postponing plans to attend a Saturday afternoon event promoting the book she has coauthored about her grandparents’ enduring romance.
But the book signing was taking place in Kennebunkport, her grandparents’ “most special place,” so Sosa said she decided to press ahead.
“People here love my grandparents and know my grandparents. It just felt like the right thing to do,” said Sosa, who was signing copies of “George and Barbara Bush: A Great American Love Story” at Fine Print Booksellers.
“Everyone has been so kind and so nice telling stories about how my grandfather has touched their lives in different ways,” she said. “It’s a sad time, but it’s also a joyous time looking back at both of their lives.”
From the Dock Square bookstore where Sosa greeted friends and admirers of her grandfather to the anchor monument overlooking the compound where Bush spent all but one summer of his life, Kennebunkport residents paused Saturday to reflect on the life of the former president and neighbor.
“He always called this place his anchor to windward,” said Tom Bradbury, 67, as he watched mourners leave flowers and mementos at the anchor monument to Bush that faces Walker’s Point. “He lived larger than life and it’s hard to grasp that death finally caught up with him.”
Bradbury, the former owner of Bradbury Bros. Market in Kennebunkport, said Bush was the grocery store’s best customer and an ardent supporter of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust.
During Bush’s presidency, Bradbury said, the trust needed to raise $60,000 to make a down payment on the purchase of Trott Island, which the group wanted to designate as conservation land.
He said he contacted a local reporter to try to drum up interest in the effort.
“What I need is 12 people to call me up in the next week and say they would give me $5,000 in order for this island to be protected,” Bradbury said he told the reporter. “The next morning the very first call I got was from President Bush.”
Ken Raynor, the PGA professional at Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, said Bush was like a second father to him.
Raynor, who spent hours golfing and fishing with the 41st president, said Bush was “absolutely expert in making people feel comfortable.”
“He just enjoyed making this world a better place and I think he certainly did that with compassion and friendship,” Raynor said in a telephone interview from Coral Creek Club in Placida, Fla., where he works during the colder months.
Painter Bob Paine, 95, and his wife, Evelyn, met the Bushes in the early 1980s.
Bob Paine was at a local art show displaying a painting he did of the Bush residence at Walker’s Point, when Barbara Bush walked in, Evelyn Paine said.
“She said, ‘I’ve got to get George in here to see that.’ At the time he was vice president. I said, ‘Oh yeah. Sure.’ But they came in and they took the painting with them. They loved it. From then on, they started coming in every year when they were here,” Evelyn Paine said.
Bob Paine prepared a portrait of the couple with their dog, Sadie, and painted the view of the Atlantic Ocean that the Bushes enjoyed from their home.
The Paines last saw the former first couple in the summer of 2017 when they met for their annual end-of-summer dinner at Mabel’s Lobster Claw Restaurant. Every year, the couples took turns picking up the tab.
That day, the former president thought it was his turn to pay the bill until Barbara Bush reminded him that the Paines were paying.
“He said, ‘I wish I’d known that. I would have had two lobsters,’ ” Bob Paine recalled him saying.
“I don’t know anybody who has done more good for this country and for the world than George Herbert Walker Bush,” Bob Paine said.
Sarah Lawrence and her husband, the Rev. Dean Lawrence, were visiting Kennebunkport from Austin, Texas, and brought their daughter, Emeline, to the monument near the Bush compound.
Sarah Lawrence said that in 2016 she worked for the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation in College Station, Texas, as an administrative coordinator.
Lawrence said she visited Kennebunkport in June 2017 for a meeting of an advisory council for the presidential library.
“I’ve been a fan of the Bush family since I could vote,” she said. “They’re good people. The whole family.”
Dean Lawrence, who is an Episcopal priest, remarked on the beauty of Bush’s summer retreat.
“There’s a sense of calmness even in the midst of this sometimes tumultuous ocean,” he said.
Beverly and Paul Pedelini, who live in Wells, Maine, said they had visited Barbara Bush’s grave earlier this year on the grounds of the presidential library in Texas.
The home in Maine is “sacred ground,” said Beverly Pedelini.
“You just feel like you need to be a part of saying goodbye,” she said. “A big chapter’s just been closed.”
Back at the bookstore where Bush’s granddaughter was signing books, Kristen Kuehnle said she was grateful her customers had a chance to meet with Sosa.
“It’s given everybody a chance to come here and talk with them and share good memories. They were just such wonderful people,” said Kuehnle, who owns Fine Print Booksellers.
She said the book Sosa wrote with Kelly Anne Chase is a bestseller at her store.
“It’s a beautiful story. We used to see George and Barbara together,” Kuehnle said. “They are such a sweet couple. It’s a very nice book about their relationship that probably more people should read.”
Kennebunkport resident Delta Fuller recalled seeing the former first couple at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church.
“We used to see quite a bit of them. . . . I was always in awe of the two of them because of their love of family and how approachable they were in the community,” she said. “It’s the end of an era, of a time of civility.”