Politics & Government

George H.W. Bush once visited a Beaufort dining room. He left this lasting impression

Vice President George H.W. Bush waves as he leaves the Beaufort home of Edie Rodgers, right in yellow, on March 4, 1988. Bush was campaigning in Beaufort before the Republican presidential primary.
Vice President George H.W. Bush waves as he leaves the Beaufort home of Edie Rodgers, right in yellow, on March 4, 1988. Bush was campaigning in Beaufort before the Republican presidential primary. Edie Rodgers

Edie Rodgers knew immediately she wanted to memorialize the spot where the future president sat.

The Beaufort resident had bought her dining table brand new in 1967, and about 25 years later, everyone who dined with Rodgers would know where George H.W. Bush had held court with local news reporters. Then vice president, Bush stopped in Beaufort in March 1988, a day before the Republican primary election in the state.

After a campaign speech in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park with Gov. Carroll Campbell, he ducked into Rodgers’ Craven Street home a block off the water to meet with local news reporters.

Years later, Rodgers would introduce presidential hopeful George W. Bush at the Boys and Girls Club in Beaufort. The former city councilwoman and state representative distinguished father and son by referring to the 41st president as “Daddy Bush.”

“I always thought the daddy was such a gentleman,” Rodgers said. “Gentle man and gentleman, one word, always applied to that man.”

Secret Service members and campaign staffers filled the stately home known as Secession House before Bush’s visit. When Rodgers learned the vice president was coming, she ordered sandwiches from Plum’s.

Bush held court with local reporters at a table less than 8 feet long, with representatives from the Associated Press, Savannah Morning News and The Beaufort Gazette among other local media members taking turns asking Bush questions. The vice president never appeared rushed, didn’t dismiss tough questions and gave reporters as much time as was needed, said John Williams, then the Beaufort bureau chief for the Morning News.

The intimate setting was in contrast to large press gatherings for other dignitaries requiring reporters to shout questions, Williams said.

“He treated us like he treated everybody else,” Williams said. “With patience, candor and respect for people he knew were doing their jobs.”

Before Bush left, he signed the basement wall in the house once occupied by Union troops and, on his way out, pulled a vice presidential seal from his pocked and handed it to Rodgers as a parting gift. Most of Bush’s signatures appear to be a condensed version of his name, but on the wall, he spelled it out legibly. A former Bush staffer later told Rodgers he must have known the writing was for posterity.

Rodgers marked an ‘X’ in black marker under the table to mark the spot where Bush sat and ordered a brass plaque with a description of his visit. It would be several years before she had the courage to screw the metal into the table.

A plaque on the dining room table of Beaufort resident Edie Rodgers marks the time George H.W. Bush visited Beaufort while campaigning for president in 1988. Stephen Fastenau sfastenau@beaufortgazette.com

Bush won the statewide primary the next day and later was elected president. Rodgers visited the White House the following year and, when she saw Bush emerge from the building, pressed her camera into the hands of a nearby woman and asked for a picture with the president.

A black album holds her mementos from that period, including a note from Bush after the campaign stop and the newspaper clippings. On a wall just off the kitchen in Rodgers’ condominium hang framed autographed photographs of Bush and his wife, Barbara, under the framed seal.

Seeing the news on the television Saturday morning of the former president’s death drove Rodgers to again pull out the souvenirs.

“It was an exciting time and on you go about life and forget about it,” Rodgers said. “And then something happens.”

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pay their respects to former President George H.W. Bush on Dec. 3, 2018 in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.