BY PAT ANDREWS
Some books are a labor of love. This is one of them, and given these tumultuous times in American politics, it comes not a minute too soon. Downriver native Michael Patrick Shiels just turned 50, but already has an impressive career as radio producer at WJR-AM, author of half of dozen books on golf and golf celebrities, travel writer and now host of an award-winning syndicated morning radio program airing in mid-Michigan.
His latest book titled, “I Call Him ‘Mr. President’ Stories of Golf, Fishing and Life with My Friend George H.W. Bush” is misleading. It really is about a decades-long friendship of a head golf professional in Kennebunkport, Maine, and the man who this country called upon time and time again when it was in need of leadership and decency.
To recount, he has been the nation’s youngest-ever naval aviator from World War II, a Yale graduate who played collegiate baseball, a successful Texas oilman, former member of the U.S. Congress, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, U.S. Envoy to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, former Vice President, and former Commander in Chief.
“It really is about friendships,” said Shiels, who spent more than four years researching and writing the book with Ken Raynor. Shiels met the golf pro some eight years prior as a volunteer for an annual Celebrity Golf Classic in Kennebunkport, to which the former President has lent his name.
As Shiels and Raynor became friends, also came stories from an unassuming man whose world suddenly expanded when the Bush family opened the doors to their seaside summer home and Raynor began a personal relationship with the President. As only Raynor could relate, there were years of conversations from the putting green to the open waters where the two men fished and talked.
In the book, Raynor talks about “getting a call.” It might lead him from a fishing trip to the wilds of Newfoundland to rounds of golf on prestigious courses. Shiels adds that Raynor has probably played more rounds with a POTUS than any PGA professional in history.
Raynor has three memorable golf experiences to relate. First, the White House putting green and secondly, a trip to Masters at Augusta, and also an opportunity later to play the course. Thirdly, a call that took him overseas to Scotland where he not only played the famed Old Course, but was invited into the prestigious clubhouse for a tour.
Raynor enjoyed his moments with the President at his home course best and will always treasure the way other golfers and spectators were treated with so much respect.
“He would be inside roped off areas with Secret Service no matter where he would be and then suddenly, he would step out and greet someone who had been waiting for an autograph or photograph.” Raynor said the President would turn around the moment by asking, “Would you like to be in a photo with me or would you like me to sign your playing card?”
When the President was in Kennebunkport during his political years and to this day, Raynor was often called to be on hand to welcome world leaders, former presidents, celebrities and big-name golfers to the quaint Capt. Arundel Golf Club.
The golf club was designed in 1919 and according to Raynor, the par-69 course is “pure golf.” It is a challenge at every level, and one that many golfers on the tour consider hallowed ground.
When the President wanted to play golf, he called. Many times, Raynor knew of golfers who already had a tee time and he would calmly ask if they minded if another person “joined” their group. The answer was always yes and the reactions of the players when they saw the extra golfer were always priceless.
PGA tour star Phil Mickelson spent time boating with the elder Bush. On one outing they came across a gathering of people on the side of the riverbank. It was obviously a wedding reception and he pulled the boat over.
“Let’s crash this wedding,” the President said to Mickelson, who replied, “We can’t do that.” The President said, “Now watch.” He got out and joked, “I didn’t get my invitation and neither did my friend.”
People broke out their cameras.
As Bush loved giving rides aboard his boat Fidelity, there were often open invitations. In June of 2007 he brought Russian president Vladimir Putin to Kennebunkport and they went fishing. He was powering the boat over the Atlantic at great speed and it allegedly startled the macho Putin.
Another former president received an invitation to visit Maine. Bill Clinton had scheduled a book signing in nearby Portland and President Bush suggested that instead of driving to Kennebunkport, he would pick him in the speedboat. Shadowed by Secret Service, the Fidelity started out, but low fog was hampering the trip. When the boat arrived in Portland, the two former commanders weighed the weather options and instead commandeered a Suburban from one of the agents.
The ride was followed by a dinner in Kennebunkport at a well-known seafood restaurant. In walked two former presidents and a former first lady. Raynor said there was a look of shock on the faces of the diners over the parade of notables. Above all, two political rivals had become friends.
There was a toast. The words were that though Americans may not always agree on everything philosophically, if the two of them could get along and truly enjoy each other’s friendship that should be a lesson to everyone.
Raynor said Clinton stayed two nights at the Bush home and he joined the presidents for a couple rounds of golf.
The golfing days might be over, but the former President, at age 93, makes every effort to be active from a wheelchair, said Raynor.
“He is a man who enjoys all that life has to offer.”
He never complains about his physical circumstances and does not want people to feel sorry for him.
One day the former first lady asked Raynor what he called her husband.
“Why, I call him Mr. President,” was the answer. “Really,” she responded. Raynor explained, “It is respect.”
“I Call Him ‘Mr. President’” is a product of Skyhorse Publishing in New York and available online and in bookstores. Shiels said Barnes & Noble continues to operate nearly 400 stores across the nation.
“They receive more than 40,000 requests yearly to have a particular book displayed at a front table nearest the door. Some 300 make the list. This is one of them.”