KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Mourners placed roses and wreaths next to a sculpted Navy anchor on a bluff overlooking the house of the 41st president of the United States on Saturday morning.
An “anchor to windward” is how George H.W. Bush long described his seasonal home in Maine — a place to relax with family and a community where he could seek clarity in conducting the affairs of the country.
The morning after his death at the age of 94, Mainers gathered along glistening waters around Walker’s Point and recognized Bush’s passing not only as the death of a national leader who established an American political dynasty, but also as the loss of one of their own.
“His presidency and who he was as a leader led us through a very difficult time gracefully,” Ernie Milner of Scarborough said. “He’s a Mainer. He chose to live in Maine because he was an unassuming, low-key person with a good heart.”
This sentiment was echoed by political leaders of both parties across the state.
Gov. Paul LePage has directed flags be flown at half-staff for 30 days to honor Bush and said Saturday that with his death “America has lost a true gentleman.”
“President Bush has been an unwavering supporter of Maine and a vibrant part of the Kennebunkport community for decades” LePage, a Republican, said in a statement. “Know that President Bush’s life and legacy of public service will be an eternal source of hope and inspiration for the people of Maine and around the world.”
Gov.-elect Janet Mills, a Democrat who will succeed LePage next year, likewise said that she would remember the Republican president for his kindness and compassion, and that “America has lost a hero and Maine has lost a friend.”
“President Bush dedicated his life to the highest ideals of public service and demonstrated that when men and women of character, integrity, and goodwill seek common ground, the lives of others are improved,” Mills said in a statement. “Maine and America grieve his loss but we are grateful for his contributions to our nation and for so wholly loving Maine and our people, just as Maine people so wholly loved him and his wife Barbara.”
Barbara Bush died in April. For the couple, the family compound in southern Maine was a rare point of stability over the decades that Bush’s career as a businessman, CIA director and elected official took them all over the world. And Kennebunkport residents remember them as being deeply ingrained in the local community.
“They did so much for the town,” Kevin Curran, who lives up the road from Walker’s Point, said Saturday. “You could see them at little, tiny events. They’d show up to to help anybody.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said the couple were also models for the nation.
“George H.W. Bush consistently and vigorously demonstrated the values that are the anchor of American society,” said Collins, a Republican. “Courage, duty, honor, and compassion define our nation and his life … These values were also demonstrated by his First Lady, Barbara, his devoted partner for 73 wonderful years. As we recall what President and Mrs. Bush gave to our nation, we also reflect upon what we have lost.”
U.S. Sen. Angus King remarked that “for all his achievements, President Bush remained humble, kind, and warm.”
“Like so many Maine people, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with President Bush during some of his trips to Kennebunkport — and like all who have had that opportunity, I will forever cherish the time we were able to share,” said King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement that Bush “led our nation with integrity and inspired future generations to dedicate their lives to public service just as he did.” The “diplomacy and decency he brought to the Presidency will forever be valued and remembered,” said Pingree, a Democrat.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, said in a statement that “President Bush’s legacy and patriotism will be remembered for generations of Americans and Mainers to come.”
Former U.S. Sen Olympia Snowe and former Maine Gov. John McKernan, both Republicans, said in a joint statement, “History will record how President Bush guided America through, and helped shape, numerous transformational events — from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the triumph of Operation Desert Storm.
“With his lifelong love for Maine, President Bush has left an indelible imprint on our state as an unwavering friend and source of tremendous pride,” they said. “Personally, we will forever cherish the friendship we were privileged to have with President Bush over nearly four decades, and the limitless generosity and support both he and Barbara offered to us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.