‘Sincerely, George Bush’

December 7, 2018

David McDonald shows the personal letter and autographed photo he received from President George H.W. Bush nearly a decade ago. At right is a photo of his father, Alexander McDonald Jr., standing on the beach in Kennebunkport, Maine, near the former president's home.

FITCHBURG -- When David McDonald learned of the death of the nation’s 41st president, the memories came rushing back.

Nearly a decade ago, the late President George H.W. Bush sent a personal letter and autographed photo to McDonald. It was in response to one McDonald wrote to Bush in January 2009.

The items had been lost among McDonald’s belongings since his move from Lancaster to Fitchburg in 2010. He was relieved to find them again recently.

“His kindness wasn’t reserved for just those in his immediate circle,” McDonald said. “He would share things with just a regular person like myself.”

The letter was one of two acts of kindness Bush had extended to McDonald’s family throughout the years.

The first time was when McDonald’s uncle, Bill Cobbett, was dying of cancer in 1997. A Maine native, Cobbett was driving the senior citizen bus in Kennebunkport, long a getaway for the Bushes, and Bush took a photo with him that is still treasured by McDonald’s cousin.

When the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier was commissioned in early January 2009, McDonald felt compelled to write to Bush to congratulate him. In the letter, he noted how his father, Alex McDonald Jr., and Cobbett used to pull lobster traps by Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport in the years just before the elder McDonald served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Like Bush, the elder McDonald was a decorated military man, his son said.

Perhaps, David McDonald mused, they had passed by one another on boats at some point. He also mentioned one of his own many trips to Kennebunkport, shortly after his 1976 graduation from Clinton High School, in which he recalled catching a glimpse of the Bush family while sitting on a bench overlooking their property. At that time, Bush was director of the CIA.

McDonald wasn’t sure of the exact address. On the envelope, he wrote “The Bushes,” a question mark for the street address, and Kennebunkport, Maine. He figured it would eventually get where it was supposed to go.

McDonald never expected to get a response. By the time June that year rolled around, he figured he wouldn’t.

But then the post office notified him of a parcel from Houston. When he arrived at the post office, McDonald was given a special key to a special box. He wasn’t quite sure what it was.

“I couldn’t believe it when I opened it,” he recalled.

The letter opened with an apology for the tardy response, and an acknowledgment that despite how belated it was, Bush felt compelled to write back in thanks.

Bush wrote that he loved the anecdotes about McDonald’s 1976 trip and his father and uncle, whom he said “sound like wonderful men.”

“Your kind sentiments touched my heart,” Bush wrote. “It’s a funny thing, David, but at age 85, kind words mean more than ever.”

In closing, Bush thanked McDonald for writing and extended his and Barbara’s best wishes to McDonald and his family.

McDonald said he watched Bush’s final services over the last couple days, and found them to be very touching.

“He’s just a great guy,” McDonald said. “He goes down in some of the greatest Americans.”

Follow Alana Melanson on Twitter @alanamelanson.

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