“Dirigo” a Latin word meaning ‘I Direct,’ or ‘I Lead’ is emblazoned on the state flag of Maine. Known for many things, its rocky coastline, blazing mountain foliage and designer shopping outlets, New England’s largest state has also been the homestead of Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush, George Walker Bush and their families.
80 miles north of Boston the Bush’s Kennebunkport, Maine enclave is situated on the Atlantic’s craggy bedrock. Known now as Walker’s Point the property was once referred to as Point Vesuvius because the waves splash along the shore with such volcanic intensity. According to the tour guide at the First Families Kennebunkport Museum, original settlers of the shipping village thought the parcel of land to be worthless when the President’s great-grandfather David Davis Walker purchased the property in the late 19th century.
Easily seen from the road Walker’s Point, and it’s cluster of New England style shingle homes built for the Bush family, has been used for decades as a center of relaxed diplomacy. It’s salt-air atmosphere hosted heads of state such as UK Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, French President Francois Mitterand, as well as Russina Presidents Mikal Gorbechev and Vladimir Putin. In 1980 it was a vacation spot for Rev. and Mrs. Billy Graham and just last June former President Bill Clinton popped into the compound guarded by secret service to share a laugh with 92 year old President GHW Bush, affectionately known as 41.
The compound’s breathtaking views and quaint town have been the venue of remarkable history. For the Bush family however, it’s also been a place to share some of life’s most intimate milestones.
On October 7th, Barbara Pierce Bush, co-founder of Global Health Corp, an organization leading social entrepreneurs to advance health care equity, chose the familial setting to exchange wedding vows with 37 year old Craig Coyne, an actor and screen writer. The sentimental wedding was held on the spot where grandfather George proposed to Barbara Pierce. The 36 year old bride, daughter of President George Walker Bush, known as 43, is her grandmother’s namesake and twin sister of the Today Show’s Jenna Bush Hager.
Missing from the family-only wedding party was the snowy haired, perpetually pearled matriarch of the family, Barbara Bush. The former First Lady and First Mother passed away last April at 92, but her influence remains a vital and conspicuous force in the family, Maine and around the nation.
Famous for her strength of character and autonomous spirit the First Lady founded the ‘Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy’ in 1989. It’s goal was to make literacy a core value in every American home. Speaking at the time of the initiative’s launch Mrs. Bush said ” The American Dream is about equal opportunity for everyone who works hard. If we don’t give everyone the ability to simply read and write, then we aren’t giving everyone an equal chance to succeed.”
As a mother to six children Mrs. Bush became personally aware of the disadvantages of people for whom reading was problematic when her son Neil was diagnosed with dyslexia. Helping to fund the literacy initiative Mrs. Bush’s English Springer Spaniel, Millie, “dictated” a New York Times best selling children’s book ‘Millie’s Book’ to her beloved owner in 1990. The post tax proceeds were donated to support the non-profit organization that continues to aid children and their families in all fifty states.
Three years ago, with a similar commitment to giving everyone the chance to succeed, Mrs. Bush endorsed a a specialty license plate to raise money for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center. The twenty dollar plate debuted this year on October 1st. Issued at the Maine registry of motor vehicles and at select town offices across Maine, half of the registration and renewal fees are earmarked to benefit the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.
Maine’s only children’s hospital provides emergency air-ambulance service to the region as well as access to routine screenings, immunizations and specialized care for complex issues such as pediatric heart diseases and cancers. Within five years the initiative tying the specialty plate to the hospital is expected to be a stable revenue source anticipated to contribute $200,000 annually to enhance care for children and their families.
The Bush family understands the special needs of children and families coping with illness. In 1953, three year old daughter Robin was diagnosed with leukemia. At that time care for children with cancer was limited. The family needed to reach out to New York’s Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for support for their second child, whom they lost to the disease seven months later. The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Maine is part of that legacy.
Another influence of the Bush family is located on 8 Maine Street in Kennebunkport. “White Columns” is a 1853 Greek Revival homestead and the setting of the First Families Kennebunkport Museum. The impeccably preserved manse, once the home of a wealthy shipping family, welcomes visitors on guided tours that explain the village’s history that began with sea captains and continues with Presidents.
The Museum is a domestic chronicle of life in Maine. Family-friendly guided tours begin at the front door of White Columns where fascinating stories of how the fishing village grew at the height of the shipbuilding era to become an important part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Cranberry colored inserts of glass from the 1800’s sparkle against the finest French wall coverings and imported furnishings of the times. The tour concludes in a gallery with a collection of family pictures, a video and a trove of mementos donated to the Museum by the Bush family. The accumulated grouping of memorabilia personalizes the public life of a bedrock family from Maine that has lead by example for generations and continues to do so.
Last year HGTV declared Kennebunkport one of the best traditional Christmas Towns in America. November 29-December 9th Kennebunkport celebrates ‘Christmas Prelude’ at White Columns with candle lit tours of the Museum elaborately decorated in Victorian splendor. Other festivities around town include heated trolly rides though the wintry Maine woods, a ‘White-Hot Boat House dance Party’ over looking the Kennebunkport River, a Firehouse Lobster Supper, Christmas Caroling and the Town’s tree lighting in Dock Square.
For details check out-:
Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy : wwwbarbarabush.org
Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital :www.mainehealth.org/BarbaraBush/Childrens
Global Health Corp: ghcorps.org
First Families Kennebunkport Museum call: 207-967-2751 or www.kennebunkporthistoricalsociety.com
Diane Kilgore is a journalist in the Greater Boston Area. She is a Cultural Contributor for NewBostonPost and creator of the lifestyle blog ‘To Di For’.