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  • Tim Tower

Fond Memories - The Birthday Anniversaries of Former President George H.W. and Barbara Bush

On June 8th this year, former First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush would have turned 99 years old. George Herbert Walker Bush, our 41st President, would be turning 100 years old on June 12, 2024, if he were alive today. Barbara told me once; "For four days, George and I are the same age. Then I'm married to an older man!" 

For twenty-four or so years, after he left the presidency in 1993, George & Barbara dined at Barnacle Billy's as much as sixteen times a season.  Sometimes it was just the former President with a guest or guests. Most times it was with Barbara and guests and/or family. George would come over by boat. Sometimes Barbara would come with him on the boat. Most times Barbara was driven by the Secret Service in an SUV.


Billy Tower, Former President George H. W. Bush and Tim Tower, circa 1990s. Barnacle Billy's, Ogunquit, Maine
Billy Tower, Former President George H. W. Bush and yours truly.

Their favorite restaurant of our two restaurants was Barnacle Billy's. Their favorite table was the "Flagpole Table" on the southern corner of the deck.  It was through George & Barbara that we met many wonderful people who, otherwise, would be known only by pictures in a magazine, through the internet or on TV.  We were lucky to meet former President Bill Clinton, former Russian President  Mikhail Gorbachev, former England Prime Minister John Major, the New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, sports announcer, Jim Nance and many other journalists, writers, senators and wonderful people we would never have met otherwise.

I believe I was most impressed with the Bush family in general. Respectful to a fault, it was as if we were doing them a favor by having them with us.  This never changed. I always thought that when, some day, they won't be with us anymore, I would really miss them not being here. I just didn't realize how much I would miss them. And it's not as if we don't see members of the Bush family from time to time. We do. But when "Number 41" was around, we saw everyone many times during a season. It never got old. It was always exciting.

Consequently, I have many good memories of their visits. There are many situations that I look back on fondly and think about. Many of these memories I impart to our patrons here at the restaurant. Some of these memories are funny like when I said to him that I didn't realize that he was also captain of his baseball team at Yale. His reply; "Yes, and I became very famous." Some were not situations that he enjoyed, like when he got one of the mooring lines in the wheel of one of his outboard engines. I saw it all happen from the deck. I ran down to my skiff tied to the float and rowed out to him in order to make it easier for him to be on his way. After I got the line out of the wheel, he gestured to me to come closer. When I did, he said; "This is so embarrassing." I told him not to worry about it; every boat in Perkins Cove has got rope in the wheel from a mooring at one time or another. From there he steered out of the Cove as if nothing had ever happened with a "thumbs up" to the crowd gathered along the bank. 

My most memorable moment was meeting Former President George H. W. Bush and former Prime Minister John Major alone on the deck of Barnacle Billy's before 11:00 AM, the time we open the restaurant every day. I had come in early so I was the first person of any import to greet him. And when I did, both gentlemen stood up to shake hands and for me to be introduced to the new man. "How would you like a picture of you and the Prime Minister," George said. Of course, I told him I would love one. Whereupon, he pulled out a Polaroid camera that he had brought just for the occasion.  I had never seen him with a Polaroid camera before or after this occasion. So, one of the former leaders of the free world took a picture of me shaking hands with another former leader of the free world and gave me the picture, two pictures, in fact. To me, just the fact that they both stood up for me as I greeted them on the deck was an amazing and, certainly, a surreal experience.

Barbara, for her part, was also wonderful and left me with many wonderful experiences to recount over and over. One day a woman was waiting respectfully until the former First Couple finished their meal. When they were finished, both George and Barbara stood up together, George heading for the boat out of the back door and Barbara headed for the SUV, by the front door. This woman was most interested in meeting the former First Lady. So she cut Barbara off at the pass, just as Barbara had reached our last fireplace before you arrive at the lobby. She touched Barbara on the shoulder and said; "I love your son!" Barbara turned to her and said; "So do I!" and kept right on walking!

I think the most touching moment was when she told me; "Please, Tim. Just call me Barbara." I was so honored, I could have hugged her, had I been a hugging kind of guy.

So this time of year is a period of strong reflection for me, my mind turning toward the Bushes. I do miss having them here with us. I miss them mostly because of the kindness and selflessness they displayed with every visit. The most famous people in the world who, if you didn't know, would seem like just another wonderful special American family. Happy Birthday, George & Barbara!  The world would be a much better place if you were still in it with us.


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