By Emily Foxhall for the Houston Chronicle
COLLEGE STATION — The visitors arrived in a steady stream to George H.W. Bush’s grave site Saturday, stopping to take pictures and to remember the former president who had died one year ago that day — on Nov. 30, 2018 — setting into motion a flurry of remembrances that ended here, his final resting place, in a wooded plot behind the library and museum.
It was quiet now, with birds chirping and the sounds of traffic in the distance, a contrast to the pomp and circumstance of the year before.
The funeral services. The train that carried his casket. Bouquets of flowers lying on his and his wife’s graves Saturday hinted subtly at the significance of the day.
Red roses with a note to “Jefe” from “Bake,” a nickname for former Secretary of State James Baker, sat outside the metal fencing: “Who’d a thunk it?” it read — a reference to the phrase the close friends repeated to each other as they rose up the political ladder — “We love you and we miss you! Our country misses you!”
Admission to the museum for the day was free, and some had come with family visiting for Thanksgiving to mark the occasion while others had arrived unknowingly. Roman and Sheila Ryder, 48 and 47, visiting from Lake Charles, La., with their son who attends Texas A&M, realized only when they saw the date on the headstone: The former President had died that day.
Some were frequent visitors, others were coming for the first time.
Betsy Gholson, 59, who lives north of San Antonio and attended Texas A&M, had never been to the grave site until mid-day. She watched the funeral and, like the Ryders, just happened to be here now, on this moment in history — marked in ways that seemed more private and personal than showy and public.
“It’s a piece of history,” said Lorna Carter, 42, of visiting. She took a picture of the grave site.
“He was the president of the United States,” said Susan Woodward, 68, remembering his down-to-earth nature, his ties to College Station. “But he was just one of us.”
The understated day was low-key in a way that Jim McGrath, spokesman for the George and Barbara Bush Foundation, expected Bush would have liked. The former president and first lady would not have wanted them moping. There was work to do.
“We’re not giving up now,” he said. “It’s full-steam ahead.”
Indeed, as Bush’s legacy continues to settle in history, a number of foundations and endeavors he and his wife established continue to further causes important to them: The Bush School of Government and Public Service in College Station, the Points of Light Awards, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.
“These are legacies that’ll carry on long after the anniversary of mom and dad’s passing,” said their son Neil Bush, who described feeling joyful and lifted when considering his dad’s memory rather than down and sad for all the work he was able to do. He said he thinks about him daily.
“Some are surprised that it’s been a year,” said Linda Smith, 62, a volunteer greeting those who walked in the museum doors. “It’s kind of on a day like today, you kind of pause and think let’s all show kindness and compassion to those around us.”
A slideshow of funeral photos played nearby, from the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. Guests, including Jeannette Hennig, 65, and her 9-year-old grandson, Eli Reyes, signed a commemorative book set out after his passing.
“He was a great president,” she said. “I remember him as a great president, a loving man.”
There was a since of pride to be able to visit the grave and museum here, said Rosa Garza, 45, who works at the school but hadn’t visited since he was buried.
“It’s so much history,” she said. “We’re so proud to have the museum in our town.”