George Bush made a lasting impact on Aiken County

December 7, 2018

While people across the world are mourning the death of George Herbert Walker Bush, citizens in Aiken are taking the time to remember the century-old connection that President Bush’s family has had with the area.

As soon as news of the president’s death was made public , the flags at the Palmetto Golf Club were lowered to half-staff to honor the loss of a great supporter of the game of golf, according to Tom Moore, the club’s director of golf emeritus.

The local connection comes through President Bush’s maternal grandfather and namesake, George Herbert Walker, who owned a 10,000 acre plantation, Duncannon, in Barnwell County. Despite being several miles removed from the heart of Aiken, Mr. and Mrs. Walker were active members of Aiken’s Winter Colony and Walker was a member of the Palmetto Golf Club from the 1920s until his death in 1953.

He served as president of the United States Golf Association in 1920 at the time a competition developed between American golfers and golfers from Ireland and Great Britain. The Walker Cup Match, played every other year, is named in his honor.

Moore, who serves as Palmetto’s unofficial historian, recounts the story of President Bush being asked about his memories of visiting his maternal grandparents in South Carolina.

The president recalled he vividly remembered having to dress for dinner parties, even at the age of 10, when accompanying his grandparents to various Aiken homes during the height of the social season he was forced into bow tie and tails. The Bush family was known to make periodic visits to the plantation and there is documentation that the future president participated in events surrounding Aiken County’s centennial celebration as a private citizen in 1971.

Aiken attorney Bill Tucker recalls meeting the president in the lobby of the Commercial Hotel (now the Hotel Aiken) during his first campaign for the presidency in 1980. He was pleased to be back in the Aiken area and reconnect with local resident Bobby Goodyear, a fellow member of the Yale baseball team when Bush served as team captain.

After losing the nomination to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and serving eight years as the vice president, Bush once again made a campaign appearance at USC Aiken during his successful 1988 run for the presidency.

Many locals recall Vice President Bush’s campaign rally in Aiken. Retired Dentist Taylor Garnett remembered taking his son, Stanford to the rally. Skipper Perry had given Stanford a red T-shirt with big white letters saying: “Bush for President” and Taylor stood Stanford on his shoulders to wave. From the podium, the vice president introduced the 3-year-old Garnett as his “youngest supporter” to date.

Beyond his visits to Aiken, Bush had an impact on Aikenites in Washington. Former Legislative Counsel to President Reagan, Marshall Cain, reflected about Bush: “He was a very wise and gentle individual; he had a genuine kindness that rose above political considerations.” He approached decisions with a type of diplomatic restraint that served our nation well.

Will Williams, CEO of Economic Development Partnership, recalled: “The Presidential Election of 1988 was the time I was eligible to vote for that office. And in January 1989, as a member of The Citadel’s Summerall Guards, I marched in his inaugural parade. He was a great man who I wish more leaders today were like him. The memories of those events are ones I will cherish forever.”

Throughout Bush’s life in public service, Americans received letters from him upon the happening of events both happy and sad. His letters typically contained hope for the future, confidence in our nation, and a challenge for us all to serve the next generation. “Learn what it means to be a loyal friend, a caring person and a good citizen, and you will then do your part to make this an even better country for the generations to come” he stated.

As America officially celebrates the life and legacy of our 41st president and as Americans don their craziest pair of socks to honor his humor, Aiken residents recall the impact he had on so many locally. George Herbert Walker Bush was a statesman who put country first and led by example.

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