Boothbay Republican remembers meeting President George H.W. Bush
Dawn Gilbert first met George H.W. Bush in the 1980s when he was President Reagan’s vice-president. On Dec. 5, Gilbert, 76, of Boothbay, remembered America’s 41st president as a “man of honor.” Gilbert watched his state funeral from her home. “I loved that man,” she said. “I called him ‘Daddy Bush’ because he reminded me so much of my own father. Both were gentlemen and very patriotic.”
Gilbert is a former Democrat who became a Republican in 1979 when the Reagan-Bush era began. She was drawn to the GOP by Ronald Reagan’s conservatism, but she grew to admire George H.W. Bush’s character and thought the two were a great team. In 1980, Maine was one of seven states Bush won in his failed attempt at the GOP presidential nomination. “I was really happy that President Reagan picked George Bush as his running mate. It was a good choice which really brought everyone together in the party,” she said.
During a Kennebunk political event in Bush’s years as vice-president, she had a conversation with the man who would become president. She introduced herself by stating the two had mutual friends. “I told him I was good friends with the Welches, Johnny and Phoebe, and (former New Orleans Saints owner) Tom Benson,” she said. “I will always remember him as a warm and kind person.”
In 1988, Gilbert supported Bush in his second attempt at the GOP presidential nomination. Gilbert liked Bush’s brand of conservative economic and foreign policies. “He didn’t want to spend a lot of money and I thought he’d keep us out of war. Even though, it didn’t turn out that way,” she said. “He was a really good president and we’d all been a lot better off if we listened to him more.”
Years later, Bush sent Gilbert a letter commending her for her decades of work supporting Maine Republicans. Gilbert displayed the framed letter in her beauty parlor for years. “I brought it home and packed it away. And now, I don’t know what I did with it.”
Gilbert met various other members of the Bush clan on future campaign trails. She worked with Bush’s daughter, Dorothy Bush Koch, when the two worked on Maine Governor John McKernan’s campaign. George W. Bush gave her a hug during his campaign for the presidency. She also had a photo taken with Barbara Bush, Bush Koch, and Dawn’s great-grandson Jameson, who was a patient at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland.
In the 2016 GOP presidential primary, Gilbert sided with political outsider Donald Trump who beat Bush’s son, John Ellis (Jeb) Bush in the primaries. “It was a hard choice, but I thought the country needed somebody like Trump at the time. But I will always respect the Bush family for their service to the country and their patriotism. They are a great family which everyone can be proud of,” she said.
Despite the past acrimony between Trump and the Bushes, Gilbert wasn’t surprised the current president was invited to the state funeral. “He’s not that kind of person. President Bush isn’t vindictive so I wasn’t surprised at all,” she said.
Gilbert was surprised at the glowing praise the 41st president has received since his death. During his presidency, she said the media was highly critical of him. “I wonder why all of a sudden they talk about what a great man he was, but in 1992 they couldn’t say a good word about him.”
Bush died Nov. 30, at 94.