Kennebunkport Couple Mourns Death Of George H.W. Bush, Witness At Their Wedding
Former President George H.W. Bush will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday morning, before his funeral at Washington National Cathedral. The following day, his body will be buried in Texas at his presidential library at Texas A&M University.
Along with Washington, D.C., and Texas, Bush is also being remembered by friends in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he and former first lady Barbara Bush made their summer home. Two people in that group of friends are Helen Thorgalsen and Bonnie Clement, who own H.B. Provisions, a general store in the small seaside town.
“They just were a part of our town, and a piece of the glue for our town,” Clement tells Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “But they wanted to never make it about them. They wanted to make sure that the town continued to run, they tried to cause the least amount of disruption to it as things were happening in our town, because it’s a very big tourist area.”
Clement and Thorgalsen had the unique privilege of having a president not only as a regular customer at their store — but also as a guest and official witness at their wedding in 2013.
“We had got engaged, he heard about it and contacted us and said, ‘Oh, so, where’s my invitation? Because we want to come to your wedding,’ ” Clement says. “So we said, ‘Well, OK, but we haven’t put them out yet.’ He kept asking us, when we’d see him. He’d be like, ‘I haven’t seen my invitation yet. At you sure it’s in the mail?’ ”
On how the Bushes were seen in Kennebunkport
Bonnie Clement: “Well, we’ve certainly had a lot of conversations with people about this and our whole friendship with them. The fact that they were just regular, down-home, family friendly, genuine, generous people.”
On Bush’s insistence that he be invited to the wedding
Clement: “He would sort of send some of his other staff, ‘Go and ask them if the invitation’s out’ — he was sort of as anxious about it as we are, I think. But we did give them the invitation, and they of course graciously wanted to come and agreed to come. But not only that, we had to ask them — not in return for coming, but just asked them because we thought it would be such an honor for us if they would sign our certificate. And they didn’t even think twice about it. They said, ‘Yes, absolutely,’ they did it and they did sign it immediately following the ceremony.”
On Bush signing their wedding certificate being taken as a political statement on same-sex marriage
Helen Thorgalsen: “None of it was political, ever. It was just the joy from our wedding and the excitement from the day and just wanting to share with my friends that we had gotten married and had a wonderful ceremony.
“Shortly after I posted that picture [of Bush at the wedding], we got on an airplane and flew to London and spent some time sightseeing, and it was quite a while before we got back online and looking at Facebook and email and that kind of thing, and … all of a sudden we had realized that the whole thing had gone viral and people were reaching out from all corners of the world trying to reach us. It was quite something. It was pretty surprising.”
On those who were surprised by Bush’s attendance at a same-sex wedding
Thorgalsen: “I mean, we’re just Helen and Bonnie, and we own the store and people come in and out and they see us and they know us. I think really, very few people really thought about, ‘Oh, it’s a gay wedding’ … it was really just about knowing two people that had been together for a long time and that we’re now getting married. There was nothing political meant by it, and I think, for 41, he just wanted to come and be a part of it because we were friends and community members, so … it was really done for that reason. And as I said to Bonnie when we were talking to different news media, that if we can make a difference for one person, then it’s all worth it.”
Clement: “I know the media of course went right after them and wanted to find out if it was a political statement, and they said, ‘We went to a wedding of our friends,’ and because we don’t make a big deal out of things, it’s sort of like, [we] just happened to be two people that got married and it just so happens we’re same-sex, and to us it’s not … we just don’t make a thing out of it.”
On how they plan to participate in Bush’s memorial services and say goodbye
Clement: “We’re first going to the Capitol and standing in line like everyone else. There’s nothing about that that gets us to the head of the line or in any faster, but we’re more than wanting to honor him, so we’re going to do that. And then on Wednesday, we are going to Andrews Air Force Base to the departure ceremony for him departing back to Houston. And, yes, to say goodbye.
“I mean it’s been kind of a whirlwind. I think it’s been that for everyone and all the planners, all of a sudden like anything — whether it’s a family death or like this — it will be after the fact, well after when all the dust settles, as they say, that then you’ll be able to go, ‘Oh, jeez, he’s gone. He’s not ever coming back to his town, our town,’ and that’s when I think this summer will really acknowledge it. Not having Barbara here for the first time was a big loss for everybody as well.”
On lessons to take from Bush’s life and the legacy he leaves behind
Thorgalsen: “[I’ll be] thinking about how much he taught us about decency and kindness, and thinking of others first and the service part, the volunteerism. To me, that’s a huge part of who he is. And as well, just remembering his letter writing. He and Barbara both wrote letters to people all the time, and I think it’s a bit of a lost art. If we could each write a letter, one a week, this world would be a better place. President Bush was also about relationships. I mean, that’s how the Cold War ended. It was a result of relationships that he had formed and it’s something that he did so naturally and effortlessly. It would be a nice thing to emulate.”
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