Visitors Crowd To See Bushes

A portion of this front-page Portland Press Herald story was picked up by People magazine.

Sporting a deep tan and extolling the pleasures of retirement, former President George Bush addressed a crowd of 800 at the Portland Museum of Art Thursday night.

“If you think it’s hard to adjust after 30 years in public life, you’re wrong. I’m having a wonderful private life right down the coast,” Bush said to the roars of the crowd.

George and Barbara Bush were the featured guests at a publication party for “The Maine Collection,” a new cookbook published by the Portland Museum of Art Guild. Proceeds from the 256-page book will help fund restoration of the McLellan-Sweatt House.

Barbara Bush contributed recipes for baked beans and cole slaw for the cookbook, which also includes favorite dishes of prominent Maine philanthropists, artists, chefs and politicians.

“For the first time in 12 years I’m cooking again, so this book will come in handy,” Mrs. Bush said.

“I’m also driving,” she added. “So if you see a Ford van, get out of the way.”

By 4:30 p.m. the museum’s Great Hall was filling with visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the Bushes. An hour later, the hall was jammed and hot. Pearls were the jewel of the evening for the dressy crowd that included many in Portland’s monied set.

At 5:40 p.m. the Bushes made their way through the crowd, shaking hands and chatting with acquaintances.

“The mackerel are in and we’re waiting for the bluefish,” Bush commented.

Barbara Bush preceded her husband to the speaker’s podium. She was wearing a colorful print dress and the triple-strand pearl choker that was her trademark in Washington.

After accepting a cookbook from the editor, Tinker Barron, Mrs. Bush handed over the microphone to her husband, whom she described as “the world’s greatest dishwasher.”

In his brief remarks, Bush said he found it “a joy to be back amongst friends. I have no bitterness. And no intention of criticizing my successor. He has a tough job to do.”

Ruby Tyler, a trim, spry 70-year-old from Portland, waited patiently for her chance to photograph the former president and first lady. “The last time I saw the Bushes I worked as a waitress at their daughter’s wedding party in Kennebunkport. I couldn’t miss seeing them again,” she said.

After working her way up to the podium, Tyler was within inches of the president when her camera stopped working. “Oh, well,” she said, “I shook both of their hands.”

Because she contributed recipes to the cookbook, Barbara Bush received top billing in publicity for the event. But it was her husband who drew the greatest throngs as he toured the museum following his speech.

“I thought he looked better than his picture, tan and fit,” said a Museum of Art Guild member, Louise Stewart, from Scarborough. “This is absolutely one of the season’s best events.”

After Bush urged the crowd to “buy one of these cookbooks,” a rush of customers lined up at the long banquet table where museum volunteers were hawking books. By 6:30 p.m., 530 cookbooks had been sold, at $18.95 each.

Outside, a crowd gathered on the street across from the museum in anticipation of the Bushes’ departure. A file of Secret Service workers cleared the sidewalk, while a lone sentinel kept watch from the room of the Harmon-Barton’s Flower building across the way.

“He can still create a ripple in Maine, apparently,” said Laura Pinio, an elderly Portland woman who arrived just in time to see the Bushes climb into a gray Cadillac and disappear in a motorcade down Free Street.

“I just wanted to see him,” she said. “I guess I’m just a diehard Republican.”

 Portland Press Herald, June, 1993