Flowers left at Bush’s Milton birthplace among tributes for the 41st US president
MILTON — Mourners came in a steady stream Saturday morning, some with flowers, others carrying small American flags, to honor former president George H.W. Bush at the home where he was born more than nine decades ago.
Outside the blue-gray house on Adams Street, Jack Guinan, 62, of Dedham, planted five flags in the soil in front of a stone monument commemorating Bush’s birthplace.
Four and one, he said, representing the number 41, honoring Bush as the nation’s 41st president.
“His family was well-to-do, yet he didn’t take the easy road,” said Guinan. “He was always the guy who exemplified what that greatest generation was about.”
Bush, who served as president from 1989 to 1993, died Friday in Houston at the age of 94. His wife, Barbara Bush, died in April at age 92.
Across Massachusetts and beyond on Saturday, mourners paid tribute to Bush, a lifelong political leader and military veteran who they said put the needs of his country before himself.
At the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where Bush was honored a little more than four years ago, a condolence book for visitors to sign sat near the front door Saturday morning.
“Thank you for your service and turning our country into what it is today,” wrote a Methuen resident among reflections from visitors from around the country.
“What does it mean to be presidential?” asked Gayla Cahan, 63, another museum visitor. “George Bush was presidential.”
Former members of Bush’s White House staff also remembered his accomplishments Saturday.
Ron Kaufman, who worked for Bush during several campaigns, including his successful 1988 White House run, and served as one of his top advisers, said Bush focused on doing what was right for the American public.
Bush will be remembered for turning the Cold War into a victory for the United States “without a shot fired,” and for his handling of the first Gulf War and his work reaching a budget deal in the early 1990s, Kaufman said in a phone interview Saturday afternoon.
“He put himself second to what was best for the country,” Kaufman said.
Bush also knew how to lead, even in defeat, he said. After Bush lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton in 1992, Bush told Kaufman to gather the White House staff for a press conference.
But instead, Bush appeared with comedian Dana Carvey, who was famous for his impersonations of the president on “Saturday Night Live.”
The pair performed a half-hour comedy set for the staff.
“It was such a great human thing to do... he didn’t do it for himself, he did it for us,” Kaufman said.
Bush was also a kind, loving family man who built friendships across the country, Kaufman said.
“He lived every single day of his life to its fullest, in joy, and love and happiness. Certainly it’s a day of feeling like you’ve lost your best friend, and the emptiness that goes with that, but it’s really not grief, because you know he and Barbara are together again,” Kaufman said.
John Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor who served as Bush’s White House chief of staff, said that even amidst the hardball politics of the day, Bush was able to find common ground on which to get things done.
“He was always willing and able to put himself in the shoes of the person he was dealing with, and to understand that a good solution would be a win-win solution,” Sununu said in a phone interview. “And he worked hard to move things in that direction.”
While Bush is recognized for his foreign policy accomplishments, Sununu said, he was also successful with domestic policy. Among Bush’s accomplishments during that era were passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act, Sununu said.
“I think people are [now] understanding that he was a great domestic policy president,” Sununu said.
Praise for Bush also came in from his alma mater, Phillips Academy in Andover, where he was a member of its class of 1942.
John Palfrey, the head of school at Phillips Academy, honored Bush’s contributions to the campus community as a class leader, varsity athlete, and alumnus, Palfrey said in a statement posted to the Andover website.
The former president, along with his wife, visited the campus in 2015, Palfrey said.
“ ‘Poppy,’ as he was known during his Andover days, brought his kind spirit, sharp wit, and fair-minded leadership to 16 years of service as a trustee. We are grateful for his generous philanthropy and optimism; we remain deeply moved by his expression of hope for future generations of students,” Palfrey said in the statement.
Governor Charlie Baker remembered Bush on Saturday as a devoted public servant who “served our country for decades in vast capacities and our hearts break to learn of his passing,” according to a statement released by Baker’s office.
“We will not only remember his incredible legacy as a war hero and our 41st President, but celebrate his humble, kind and ambitious spirit that will be sorely missed,” Baker said in the statement.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh called Bush “a man who led our country with dignity and honor,” in a statement posted to Twitter.
“He was a president defined by pragmatism, seeking solutions above party in service to his country. My thoughts are with his family at this time,” Walsh said.
Kirsten Hughes, the chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, said in a statement that the state’s Republicans offered their condolences to the Bush family and their gratitude for Bush’s life and service.
“He was an awe-inspiring man who had a deep love for public service, his country and his family,” Hughes said in the statement. “The true testament of his character was one that urged civility in politics but did so with compassion, and today the 1,000 points of light became 1,001.”
In 1997, the former president visited the Milton home where he was born, according to an account of the visit published at the time by the Patriot Ledger.
About 1,000 people greeted the former president, according to the paper, and he toured the home.
Bush told the crowd at the time that Milton was where his parents began teaching him family values and morals.
“Perhaps at 6 or 8 months, that’s a little young to think that would take place,” Bush said, according to the Ledger account. “But what I’m telling you is that the importance of the values we get from our families, values that I think of when I think of Milton, Massachusetts, and the people here and the history of this town, are what life is really all about.”
Outside Bush’s birthplace, a small stone monument commemorates his local ties.
“I think the state of Massachusetts should be very proud. He was an excellent president,” said a woman who gave her name as Peggy, 82, of Randolph, who came to Bush’s birthplace. “I just loved him.”
Peggy paused in front of the stone, then draped a small US flag over a shrub next to the monument. She had been a campaign worker for Bush during his 1988 and 1992 presidential runs, she said.
“It was such a beautiful feeling when he won” in 1988, she said.
Bush’s lasting legacy will be how he led the country, she said.
“He tried to pull people together, regardless of their political affiliation,” she said. “He loved America.”
A 55-year-old Milton man who declined to give his name adjusted one of the flags on the Bush monument. “It’s going to be hard to find anyone to say something bad about” Bush, he said.
Mourners who paid tribute to Bush also crossed partisan lines. One of them was Teri Flynn Mahoney, a Democrat from Dorchester.
She contrasted Bush’s style to the manner of the current Republican in the White House, President Trump.
“His kindness that he showed to all men, and the respect that he previously showed people . . . that isn’t very prevalent with the current president,” she said.
At the Kennedy library, where Bush was presented its annual Profile in Courage Award in 2014, Alisson Laut, 35, and her husband, Nelson Laut, 36, also favorably compared Bush with the current administration.
“It’s sad we need a president like Trump to appreciate a president like Bush or Kennedy,” said Nelson Laut. “They had values and stuck to it.”