KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine (CBS/AP) — Former President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush weren’t just vacationers in Kennebunkport, Maine, they were ingrained in the community.
Bush died Friday evening, about eight months after the death of his wife. He was 94.
Residents paid their respects on Saturday by turning a scenic Atlantic Ocean overlook near their home into an impromptu memorial featuring Christmas wreaths, flags and flowers.
A steady stream of people visited the site where’s there’s a large anchor. In the background, the U.S. flag was at half-staff at Bush’s Walker’s Point home.
‘Literally I sobbed,” said Shirley Deschenes. “It’s a big loss. Not because he was a president but because he was a fine gentleman.”
Tom Bradbury from the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust called him a “wonderful community member, a great neighbor.”
“It’s a time to remember and celebrate the time he spent with us,” he said.
After more than 70 summers spent in Maine, this most recent would be the only one Bush would take without his wife by his side.
The Kennebunkport Historical Society Bush Gallery was packed with visitors Saturday, many signing the memorial book that will be delivered to the Bush Family in Washington next week.
“The highlight of my life. He was an exceptional man,” said Kirsten Camp, the executive director who worked closely with President Bush in creating the museum.
“This is a hard day to begin with I’ll be honest with you,” Camp told WBZ-TV. “But all the people who have to come through the doors today to come and commemorate and tell us their stories, listening to that has taken the sting of losing a great man.”
This weekend in Kennebunkport is called Christmas Prelude, a very busy and bustling time. One of President Bush’s favorite places to stop was the HB Provisions store. The owners say they will miss him dearly.
“So sad to feel that this is an era that has ended,” said Helen Thorgalsen of HB Provisions. “President Bush was just such an amazing man. Yet there is a sense of peace of knowing that he and Barbara are together again.”
Kennebunkport locals had grown used to seeing President Bush and the First Lady out enjoying a traditional Maine lobster dinner at Mabel’s Lobster Claw — one of their favorite joints. The couple’s children and grandchildren would often visit the Walker’s Point compound as well.
The town may now feel a bit quieter come spring, but since Barbara Bush’s passing, people have already found ways to honor the couple through photo galleries, meal specials, gardens, and memorials.
Jack Wilson, former president at the University of Massachusetts, met Bush at a White House ceremony.
“We wanted to come up and say goodbye to George Herbert Walker Bush, and say thank you for all he did for the country,” he said. “I just felt that I wanted to come out and honor him — and say goodbye.”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)