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NH tributes roll in for Barbara Bush

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

April 18. 2018 6:43AM
Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, are shown during inauguration ceremonies on the west front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2005. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)



Public officials from one end of the political spectrum to the other fondly recalled first lady Barbara Bush — who died Tuesday at 92 — as a passionate and protective advocate for her husband and family.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a first-term Republican, saluted her as an “American icon and honorary Granite Stater” while Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, called Bush a “strong and remarkable public servant.”

Longtime GOP operative Tom Rath of Concord said he witnessed firsthand how loyal Barbara Bush could be while campaigning at Hampshire Hills in Milford in 2000 for her son, George W. Bush, who would go on to win two terms as commander in chief.

“We were in the holding area and Barbara Bush walked up to me and said, ‘Tom Rath, I think my son is coming down with a cold. Are you taking good enough care of him?’” Rath recalled.

“You know she really was every bit what people said about her — she was kind, feisty, loyal, tough and gentle at the same time. I had such admiration for her.”

Joel Maiola of Sunapee was one of the original “Bushwackers,” young, active volunteers who drove the Bush couple and their children all over the first-in-the-nation primary state from their first campaign for the White House in 1980 right up until son Jeb campaigned for the GOP nomination for President in 2016.

“She wasn’t someone who would yell or snap at you, but she had that look or glare she would shoot at you. It was one that if your mother or grandmother had given it to you, it was that ‘Aw, gee moment, what have I done now,’” Maiola said. “You never wanted to disappoint or feel you had let her down.”

From the outset, Maiola said Barbara Bush had a personal appeal that clearly rivaled her husband, former President George H.W. Bush.

“When he was first campaigning here, she was so popular, so engaging, so involved in that race as much as her husband. Trust me she was as popular out there among their supporters as he was, if not more so. Sometimes she would outdraw him with the crowds that came out to see her,” Maiola said.

Rath recalled a special moment when his close friend and colleague, David Souter, was sworn in as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Souter was single so Rath’s daughter, Erin, held the Bible that Souter used to take the oath of office.

“She was so warm and tender with Erin, making sure she wasn’t too nervous and just enjoyed the moment. That’s who she was, a grand lady,” Rath said.

Former Republican State Chairman Jennifer Horn of Nashua was in a small group of Republican National Committee members who met with the Bush family at their Walker Point compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, in September 2015.

“She was absolutely as lovely as everyone says; she was gracious, welcoming,” Horn recalled.

“President Bush was in a wheelchair and she was so attentive to him. I remember the President was wearing a neck brace and she gently took it off him and said, ‘He doesn’t need his picture being taken with this on.’”

Horn said she hoped Mrs. Bush’s passing makes those in public life realize what’s missing today.

“Through her entire life, she was a living example of grace, civility, faithfulness, sincere love of country,” Horn said.

“I hope as people reflect, they will think about how we can improve the public dialogue in this country, raise it back up to a level that would be deserving of Barbara Bush.”

The Sununu family has a long-standing relationship with the Bushes.

Former Gov. John H. Sununu helped engineer Bush’s comeback win in the 1992 primary and went on to become his White House chief of staff.

“New Hampshire is mourning the loss of American icon and honorary Granite Stater Barbara Bush tonight,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement.

“Having known Mrs. Bush for the better part of 30 years, no one personified the idea that we must strive to leave the world better than we found it more than she did. Valerie and I extend our prayers and sympathies to the Bush family.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said Mrs. Bush made America a better place through her philanthropy.

“Both as first lady and as a private citizen, Barbara Bush devoted her time and energy to improving the lives of others through numerous charities, and leaves behind a legacy through her tireless work promoting literacy,” Shaheen said.

Former state Sen. David Currier of Henniker was another George H.W. Bush supporter from the beginning.

Currier and his wife, Theresa, insisted their son, Neil Bush, live in their home while he campaigned for months here in 1979-80.

“I’m so saddened to hear it; this is really like losing a member of the family. This really takes the wind out of my sails,” Currier said.

“There was something so eternal about her; she didn’t look to ever age and I felt as if she would definitely outlive me. She was always looking after the people who worked on the campaigns or did volunteer work for the family.”

Maiola said the warmth Barbara and George Bush showed each other was inspirational.

“She had her own opinion; it wasn’t always the same opinion her husband had,” Maiola added.

“He knew and respected that and I think that’s what made them one of the marriages for the ages. They had such love but also admiration for the other.”

klandrigan@unionleader.com


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