Former President George H. W. Bush is showing his age. He has great difficulty walking, and has taken to a special scooter to get around. But many of his friends will be pleased to know that he insists on leading an active life and is a popular figure wherever he goes.
All this was vividly apparent when the 87-year-old Bush, his wife Barbara, their daughter Doro and granddaughter Gigi traveled with friends and a contingent of Secret Service agents on the Queen Mary 2 for a seven-day voyage from Southampton, England to New York that ended last Friday.
My wife Barclay and I were also aboard, and we saw the former first couple all over the ship. We had dinner with them on the final evening, and the former president and his wife were engaging and gracious. Even though some friends thought the former president might prefer to keep out of the public eye while aboard the famous ocean liner, which carried more than 2,500 guests, he roamed the vessel and was out and about much of the time. Bush apparently enjoyed all the attention and posed patiently for photographs with many guests and crew members throughout the voyage.
"Barbara and I have always wanted to make a crossing, and it gives us great joy to be able to do so aboard Queen Mary 2 with our family and close friends," the former president noted in a public statement issued by his staff. "We have enjoyed the voyage from its beginning, and our experience has been made even better by the amazing crew and staff."
They attended several production shows and other performances in the ship's Royal Court Theater, where they were greeted with applause and cheers when they entered and left the room. They also were received enthusiastically each evening when they dined in the posh Queen's Grill.
On the final night, the Bushes invited us to dinner. Over a meal of Dover sole and spinach, we all joked about how the former president still doesn't eat broccoli, which he banned mischievously from Air Force One during his time in office (a story that he recalled that I broke for U.S. News years ago).
The former first couple said the voyage gave them what they were looking for—an opportunity to relax in an amenity—filled atmosphere and in the unusual setting of an Atlantic crossing. They didn't want to discuss politics, but I was told that the former president is following the current campaign intently. He and his wife have endorsed Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney.
After the voyage, the Bushes were scheduled to leave New York for an extended stay at their family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine.