Memories of Mrs. Bush

Editor's note: This week, rather than weighing in on a topic, we're remembering Barbara Bush, who died last week at the age of 92.

Meeting Barbara Bush is not something one forgets.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity, as a young reporter in Biddeford, when I was assigned to cover distribution of local literacy awards sponsored by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

When I arrived at the community center for my assignment, the director of the Parks and Recreation Department pulled me aside with a question — would I be willing to take a photo of the former first lady with department members?

I looked left and right, surrounded by television and daily newspaper reporters in the cordoned-off media area, and quickly, before anyone else could overhear, agreed. Thank goodness I'd brought my most professional digital camera instead of the tiny one commonly used in the newsroom in those days.

With the literacy awards presented, several Secret Service agents ushered Mrs. Bush — and me — to the prearranged photo location. The other journalists, many of them well-established in the business, stared at me — the relative rookie — wondering where we were going and how I managed to get one-on-one time with Mrs. Bush.

We exchanged pleasantries, of course, but not much more as we made our way down the stairs. But after the photo op was done, she offered me her hand, looked me in the eyes and sincerely thanked me for doing her “the favor” of agreeing to take the photos.

Mrs. Bush may have been relatively small in stature, but her presence filled the room, regardless of its size. Yet, when she spoke to you, she was completely focused on the conversation and made you feel like the most important person there. I could see why people spoke so highly of her and how valuable a statesman she was in the political realm.

While I never again had the chance to be as up close and personal as that day, I covered other events attended by the Bushes, including the dedication of the George and Barbara Bush Center at the University of New England.

For that event, the Bushes arrived somewhat later than expected. It turned out the former president, who insisted on captaining the boat, was a poor navigator.

— Stephanie Grinnell