BOCA GRANDE — Head Golf Professional Ken Raynor was supposed to be working at Coral Creek Club Saturday. Instead, he fielded calls from around the world.
Many inquired of his 30-year friendship with George H. W. Bush, who died late Friday.
“The president was like a second father to me, he was my mentor,” said Raynor, 66, who last year released the book “I Call Him ‘Mr. President’: Stories of Golf, Fishing and Life with My Friend.”
“I wrote the book, about many of our adventures,” he said. “But really the president helped me write it for 30 years. He read the book last year. Barb (Bush) wrote the forward for the book. After it came out, Barb sent me a great note. She said that a lot of people would learn about a different side of the president never seen in any other book about him.”
Raynor asked many friends of President Bush to write a letter for the book. One from former Vice President Dan Quayle talked about the president’s love for golf saying he didn’t do “practice swings” or “mulligans.”
Raynor wrote about life lessons he and others gained from friendship with President Bush, their common love for outdoors, hundreds of golf outings, retreats at Camp David, fishing trips on the northern Canadian waters among other places, flying in Marine One, having dinner in the Lincoln room at the White House and many other adventures.
In the book, Raynor writes how humor “lowered expectations for President Bush’s own pending drive.”
“Put yourself in his shoes: Every time he went out for a casual game of golf, the eyes and lenses of the media, Secret Service agents, aides, playing partners, his golf professional and anyone who gathered around the first tee were upon him. The last thing they want to see the leader of the free world do is top a shot into the weeds or, God forbid, whiff.
“After delivering his joke, President Bush hit a beauty right up the fairway.”
“Take a bite out of that one!” the president shouted. “Mr. Smooth is back!” People clapped and laughed, Raynor wrote.
Also in the book, Greg “The Great White Shark” Norman, an Australian professional golfer and entrepreneur, writes about when President Bill Clinton wanted to golf with him. He wasn’t a fan of Clinton. So, Norman called his friend and fellow golfer President Bush for advice.
“Greg,” President Bush said, “my advice to you is to respect the position of the President of the United States — no matter who it is. I highly suggest you play golf with him.”
“Yes sir,” Norman responded.
Norman did play with President Clinton, and the two struck up a wonderful friendship, Raynor wrote in the book.
“I wrote the book for one reason,” Raynor said. “I wanted to share a story about the relationship that we established. I would get a phone call or letter from the White House or the Oval Office. I thought, ‘why was he thinking about me?’ His arms reached out so far. It’s very easy for me to say he enriched my life.”
All proceeds from the book go to two charities — Portland Mercy Hospital’s “Gary’s House” from the Gary Pike H.W. Bush Cape Arundel Golf Classic and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust.
“Gary’s House” is like the Ronald McDonald House. It’s a hospitality house where people can stay when they have a family member receiving medical treatment at any Portland area hospitals in Maine.”
Raynor said President Bush also friended many in Boca Grande after years of vacationing with his family.
“Charter captain Phil O’Bannon took the Bush family fishing,” Raynor said, adding he had O’Bannon fish with him in Kennebunkport as well. “The president loved Boca Grande. The family loves going to the Gaspiralla Inn. They like shopping on the island. Boca Grande is a lot like Kennebunkport, — life in the slow lane where mother nature abounds, there’s a beautiful view to the sea, plenty of golf, and time for family and friends.”
Raynor said after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, he spoke to the former president.
“As a parent, President Bush’s number one concern was the safety of citizens. He was very touched by the amount of support from citizens who supported his son who was the sitting president at the time,” Raynor said. “Certainly he was very aware how blessed we are all as Americans and we are worth fighting for. As a former president, he understood the magnitude of the impact of Sept. 11 for his son who was the president when it happened.”
Raynor visited President Bush after his wife Barbara died in April.
“We talked about Barb and how great the service was for her,” he said. “We were looking at the ocean and the stellar waves. We talked about golf and our friendship. It was a way for me to say a goodbye to him, a real goodbye in case I didn’t see him again. That was in October.”
Raynor says the world was touched by the 42nd president.
“It’s very simple,” he said. “The other guy was important to him. He should respect his opinion. There weren’t any titles. He wanted what was right for the common good. He reached out to people. He would entertain world leaders in Kennebunkport. They shared the joys of outdoors, lobster bakes, fishing, golfing and then he would sit down and have a frank discussion. He was a very positive person.”
Locals on Boca Grande said Saturday George and Barbara Bush will be missed.
“They were wonderful, kind, and generous to people,” said Don Smith, who splits his time in Boca Grande and Chicago. “They would talk to you. They never talked above you. He was a wonderful man.”
Church members at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Boca Grande knew when the couple was visiting because they attended church services there. Locals weren’t tipped off by the secret service, but because George and Barbara sat up front of the church.
The last time the former president, visited Boca Grande he was wheelchair bound.
“He was a good man, a class act,” said resident Pat Ryan. “He joined his daughter Robin (who died from leukemia at age 3 in 1953) and wife Barbara. God bless them.”