KENNEBUNK — When former first lady Barbara Bush stayed at her summer home at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, she often headed to nearby Gooch’s Beach to walk her two little Maltipoos, Bibi and Mini-Me.

Trailed by the Secret Service and, in recent years, using a “dune-buggy” walker to make her way down the popular dog-walking spot, Mrs. Bush would fondly refer to her mischievous mutts as “Bad” and “Worse,” or “al-Qaida One” and “al-Qaida Two,” and win over the hearts of scores of fellow dog walkers with her dry, self-deprecating sense of humor.

A few hundred of those she encountered on the beach and around town over the years came together for an informal memorial on the beach Sunday afternoon, a day after Mrs. Bush’s funeral in Texas.

They told one another their best Barbara Bush stories and about numerous Bush family encounters. Many of them wore pearls, a nod to Mrs. Bush’s signature neckwear, which she was known to pair even with sweat suits. They brought along dogs that once romped with Bibi and Mini-Me, many of them also sporting a strand of pearls.

The event was organized by Kennebunkport resident Diane Denk, who got to know the former first lady over dogs and books.

Denk said regulars at the beach felt they needed to do something to acknowledge Mrs. Bush’s passing. So they came up with the idea of a memorial there and a book collection to be donated in her memory to the Kennebunk Free Library, Graves Memorial Library in Kennebunkport and The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital library in Portland.

They all signed a poster board, which Denk intends to deliver to the guards at the gate at Walker’s Point.

A self-described staunch Democrat, Denk said everyone left politics behind at Gooch’s Beach.

“Down here we are apolitical. We are the party of people who love dogs,” said Denk.

People in the crowd said they have only good memories of the Bushes, who patronized the local restaurants, roamed the aisles of the local Walmart at 6 a.m. and went about their daily lives like everyone else.

Just about everyone at the beach memorial could attest that Barbara Bush never left it to the Secret Service to clean up after Bibi and Mini-Me.

How many other first ladies would do that? Fred Forman of Kennebunkport wondered aloud.

Forman was accompanied by his Clumber Spaniel, George, named after the 43rd president, George W. Bush.

“I introduced him to Barbara. I have pictures of Barbara holding his leash,” said Forman, while George lolled at his feet.

Pauline Smith of Kennebunkport, with her long-haired miniature dachshund, Coco Chanel, remembered her own encounter with Barbara Bush. Smith was cleaning up the floor of a cottage that was part of an interior design show and backed out of the house as she worked, right into someone.

Smith stood up, turned around and gasped, horrified that she had backed right up into the former first lady, accompanied by the Secret Service, no less.

Mrs. Bush quickly filled the conversational silence.

” ‘Oh my goodness. It’s only me. There’s nothing to get alarmed about,’ ” Smith said, quoting the Bush family matriarch.

Others told similar stories. Kathy Molloy of Kennebunkport recalled the day she watched her late dog, Bandit, walk up to Mrs. Bush and blithely lift a leg to urinate on her foot.

“It was in slow motion I said, ‘Nooooo!’ ” said Molloy.

The former first lady didn’t blink, however, and quickly put Molloy at ease. Mrs. Bush pointed out that Bandit was simply following the lead of another dog that had made the same faux pas earlier. From that day forward the two often stopped to chat.

“I hope she is up there with Bandit,” said Molloy.

Debbie Balboni of Wells remembered the day she encountered Mrs. Bush on the beach and asked if she would agree to be in a picture with her. Balboni then asked her if she would mind if she put an arm around her for the photo.

Mrs. Bush shot back, “If you try to hurt me, they will have to kill you,” referring to the Secret Service.

Denk told her own story about the time she recommended the book “Boys in the Boat” to Barbara Bush.

About a month later Mrs. Bush came up to her and said, for all to hear, “I have a bone to pick with you. Because of you, my husband won’t talk to me.”

Denk said Barbara then went on in her deadpan way, “My husband won’t talk to me because he won’t take his nose out of the book. What I am really mad about is that I want to read the book,” Denk said, quoting Mrs. Bush.

When the stories finally ran out Sunday afternoon, the group sang “You Are My Sunshine.”

Then they and their dogs took one more walk down Gooch’s Beach in memory of their fellow dog walker.

 

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