HOLLIS — Former President George H.W. Bush made headlines on Thursday when he celebrated his 90th birthday by leaping from a helicopter.
Hearing of the former commander-in-chief’s latest adventures on the morning news, memories of a special trip to the Bush homestead in Kennebunkport, Maine, came flooding back for Hollis resident Richard Darling.
Darling, who retired as Hollis’ police chief in 2005, was among the 25 or so New Hampshire police chiefs invited to have dinner with the Bush family in Maine in the late 1980s.
The elder Bush was then serving as vice president and was fresh off a successful presidential campaign in the New Hampshire Primary and wanted to extend his thanks to the state’s law enforcement.
John H. Sununu, New Hampshire’s 75th governor who would later serve as White House chief of staff, was also among the guests.
Darling, who traveled to Kennebunkport with his wife, Sandy, said he’ll never forget his presidential encounter.
“The world ought to know what a nice guy he is,” Darling said of Bush, recalling how shortly before sitting down to dinner, Bush shifted his guests’ attention to his kitchen staff.
“He told us that these people aren’t his servants, that they’re like members of his family,” Darling said. “Then the cooks all sat down and had dinner with us.”
The Darlings recalled how they sat near Bush and his wife, Barbara, and former Nashua Police Chief William Quigley.
“We all talked like we were family,” Darling recalled. “It was wonderful.”
Staying at a nearby hotel, the Granite State guests were shuttled by bus to and from the Bush compound. Darling said it was none other than the nation’s 41st President to come out and greet him as the bus pulled into the driveway, later pausing to allow for photos to be taken with each of his guests.
After dinner, the police chiefs joined Bush on the pier, while their wives were treated to a tour of the family home, courtesy of Barbara Bush.
Sandy Darling, a retired teacher, recalled being encouraged to roam freely through the home. She recalled spying a handwritten note Barbara Bush had taped by a doorway, reminding the Bush children to put away their laundry so as not to cause the housekeeper any extra hassle.
“They were truly down-to-earth people,” she said. “They just seemed to genuinely care about every life they touched.”