HOUSTON — Jack Vest and Scott Holstead followed very different career paths, but both took them into the orbit of Barbara Bush. And both said the former first lady, whose funeral and burial were Saturday, treated them the same.
Vest, a contractor and handyman who works in the Bushes’ gated Houston community, recalled seeing Bush walking her dogs under the watch of Secret Service protection when she stopped to give him a big, friendly hello and wave.
“I’m just a nobody in their world, but she made me feel like a somebody,” he said. “She didn’t have to stop what she was doing, but she did. I felt compelled to be here.”
Like Vest, Holstead was among hundreds of people who lined the streets of Houston’s sprawling and verdant Memorial Park and waited under rain-threatening skies to watch with respect as the long funeral procession passed by after an emotional service at nearby St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.
Holstead, now a financial planning executive for J.P. Morgan Securities, met Bush as a White House intern and later a campaign volunteer in 1991-92 for President George H.W. Bush’s ill-fated re-election campaign. Although she was the president’s wife, and according to polls at the time was the most admired woman in the nation, Holstead described her as irreverent and informal.
“About once a week or so, we (he and other interns in the White House office of National Service) would see her strolling down to the pools with Ranger and Millie following along,” said Holstead, referring to the “first dogs” of the Bush White House era.
The mood at Memorial Park, a 1,466-acre jogger’s and bicyclist’s paradise tucked into the corner of two of Houston’s busiest freeways, was more nostalgic than grieving. Those who turned out to watch echoed the tributes that poured in since Bush died Tuesday at age 92.
They spoke admiringly of her devotion to her family, perhaps the most influential ever in Republican politics, and her witty and independent spirit.
If Yvonne Baron-Hernandez appeared overdressed with a string of white pearls around her neck sitting on a blanket in the park, she planned it that way.
“I just wore them to honor Barbara,” she said, comfortable in suggesting a first-name basis. “She was a strong woman but didn’t take herself too seriously. She definitely spoke her mind.”
Baron-Hernandez, who came to the park with her husband, Emilio, and their son, Evan, recalled hearing Bush speak at a women’s conference in Houston.
“Half the time I sat there riveted,” she said. “And the other half I was laughing so hard. She had a terrific sense of humor.”
Roderick Taylor, 45, got to Memorial Park around 9 a.m., some four hours before the funeral procession was expected to pass by.
“This is something I just wanted to see for myself, pay my respects,” said Taylor, who, like nearly everyone else in the park, planned to capture the motorcade on smartphone video.
Mitch Mortola waited with his elderly mother, Maria Mortola, along the main road cutting through the park.
Maria Mortola watched from her wheelchair while her son watched over her.
“We’re here to pay our respects to Mrs. Barbara Bush,” said Mitch Mortola, who recalled having the chance to meet the former first lady at a 2014 event promoting literacy.
“She exemplified what being a good person is.”