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Barbara Bush’s heartfelt link to Georgia went back 73 years

As the wife of one president and the mother of another, Barbara Bush, who died Tuesday at the age of 92, spent time in Georgia both on and off the campaign trail.

But it was an affair of the heart that first brought her here 73 years ago, when she married the dashing young Navy pilot  George H.W. Bush when he was home on leave from World War II. The wedding took place on Jan. 6, 1945 in the 19-year-old bride’s hometown of Rye, N.Y. , after which the young couple headed to the Georgia coast for their honeymoon.

CORBIS/Corbis/Getty - While George was away at war, Bush studied at Smith College in Massachusetts, though she dropped out by the time he returned to the United States on leave in early 1945. It was during this leave that they wed at the First Presbyterian Church in her hometown of Rye. Next stop was their honeymoon on Sea Island, Georgia, a place they  and other Bush family members kept returning to over the years (People Magazine)

“We had a lovely reception and then headed for New York City for the night,” Bush wrote in her 2003 book, “Reflections: Life After the White House.” “Before leaving town we saw ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ at Radio City Music Hall and then took the sleeper to the Cloisters in Sea Island, Georgia.” 

Built in 1928 on the five-mile barrier island off the coast of Georgia, the Cloister was known as “the friendly little hotel” that would go on to host dignitaries and heads of state from future President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1946 to legendary British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1994. Many took part in the tradition begun by President Calvin Coolidge in 1928 of planting a live oak -- the state tree of Georgia -- on the resort’s grounds.

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Of course, none of that was on the agenda for the honeymooning Bushes. As the future first lady recalled, “We had such a nice time there. Most of the people were older, but we did meet some other honeymoon couples. We swore that we would return often. So much for resolutions. We finally went back to that lovely place in 1991 for a lovely weekend.”

They did indeed in September 1991. Of course, by then, they were president and first lady of the United States.

“This was our first trip back from our honeymoon 46 years earlier,” she wrote in 2003. “There were people along the route into the Cloisters with signs saying ‘Happy Anniversary Mr. President.’ It wasn’t our anniversary, but it was sweet anyway.”

Another nice Georgia touch on that trip: Golf games for both members of the first couple were arranged for them by “former Attorney General Griffin Bell,” Mrs. Bush recalled. Americus native Bell had served as Attorney General during fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter’s presidential administration (Ronald Reagan and his vice president, George H.W. Bush defeated Carter’s bid for reelection in 1980; still, Bell wound up playing golf with President Bush on that trip).

Also on that visit, keeping with tradition, President Bush planted a live oak on the grounds. The couple returned to Sea Island four years later to mark their 50th wedding anniversary. On that visit, Town and Country magazine reports, they stayed in the five-star Cloister’s 2,200 square foot Sea Island Suite. 

President Bush and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, far right, hold hands as South African President Thabo Mbeki, third right partially obscured, European Commission President Romano Prodi, center, Ghana's President John Kufuor, fourth from left, Russian President Vladimir Putin, second from left and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, far left, walk together to pose for a group photo at the G-8 Summit in Sea Island, Ga., on Thursday June 10, 2004. Person third left is an unidentified protocol officer. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours) (LAURENT REBOURS/AP)

His parents’ close connection to Sea Island was one reason it was selected as the site for the G8 Summit hosted by President George W. Bush in 2004. Among the attendees were Vladimir Putin, Jacques Chirac, Silvio Berlusconi, and Tony Blair. And during the high security, high profile event, the current President Bush -- you guessed it -- planted a live oak just a few feet from the one his father had earlier embedded there.

In February 2013, the Bush relationship with Sea Island came full circle as the Cloister marked its 85th anniversary with an event that was attended by Jenna Bush Hager, one of George W. and Laura Bush’s twin daughters (and George H.W. and Barbara Bush’s granddaughter). With by her husband, Henry Hager, she helped cut a cake that was a replica of her grandparents’ 1945 wedding cake.

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