The crowd of more than 300 gathered ostensibly to applaud the opening of the "Mini Mote" in Boca Grande Jan. 9 was actually more stirred by the visit and speech of former First Lady Laura Bush.
Bush, perhaps the most beautiful of First Ladies since Jackie Kennedy, was warmly received during and after a talk heavy on reminiscence and ecological promise.
Here are excerpts of her warm introduction from former Rep. Andy Ireland, who comically kept referring to her as "Barbara Bush" and her own comments.
"It's my great pleasure to introduce our first speaker," Ireland said at the podium on the front porch of Mini Mote. "She's one of the most loved and admired First Ladies.
"For decades, Laura Bush has championed key issues in the fields of education, health care and human rights. She's the author of the best-selling book, 'Spoken From the Heart and she also founded the Texas Book Festival and the National Book Festival operated out of Washington.
"She today is chairwoman of the Women's Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute where she continues her work on global health care and innovations empowering women in emerging democracies and education reform and supporting strongly the men and women who have served in our military."
Laura Lane Welch Bush at a glance
Birthdate: Nov. 4, 1946
Occupation: former school teacher, best-selling "Spoken from the Heart" author, philanthropy
Hometown: Midland, Texas
Family: 35 years as wife of the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush (2001-09) with twin daughters
Education: bachelor's degree in education and master's degree in library science from the University of Texas at Austin
Discovered Boca Grande: Bush family has vacationed on Boca Grande for decades and the former First Lady and W have rented a home on island the past two Januarys.
The following comments were made by Laura Bush.
QUESTION: Who is most responsible for bringing a Mini Mote to Boca Grande?
ANSWER: There are so many distinguished people to thank and recognize. I especially want to thank former Sen. Connie Mack; former Congressman Porter Goss, also a former director of the CIA; former Congressman Andy Ireland, chairman of the Mote-Boca Grande Advisory Committee; and also the new executive director of the Mote Boca Grande office. Everybody on Boca Grande knows Capt. Phil O'Bannon.
Q: What Bush family connections does Capt. O'Bannon have?
A: He's taken many Bushes out on fishing trips and, as Andy said, he got 'em all home safely. So I'm very happy to be here today for the opening of the new Boca Grande Mini Mote (laughter from the crowd.)
Q: How did you become involved in this Mote installation on Boca Grande?
A: I met Mote CEO Dr. Kumar Muhadavan at the Heart Research Institute Gulf of Mexico summit December 2010 in Houston. He was a very persistent director because he immediately came up to me and gave me his card. So when I came to Boca Grande in January 2011, I had the chance to go to Sarasota and visit the marine laboratories.
Q: What was your favorite part of the Mote-Sarasota trip?
A: I got to pet the two manatees, Hugh and Buffett, the two resident manatees, which was really fun.
Q: What inspired you to become involved in ecological causes the Mini Mote will take on?
A: The Gulf of Mexico has been a part of my life my whole life. My very first vacation I remember as a child, my parents took us to Galveston. I remember walking into the Gulf of Mexico waters with my dad and looking for seashells with my mother and being shocked when some of my seashells walked off (crowd laughs). Later, as a young teacher in Houston, George and I honeymooned on Cozumel in the Gulf of Mexico and vacationed with our girls on South Padre Island and took them bird watching on Port Aransas. We spent seven of their spring vacations when they were in elementary school and junior high here on the Gulf Coast of Florida when George owned the Texas Rangers when their spring training was in Port Charlotte. So I got to do with them here in this part of the Gulf exactly what my parents had done with me, which was to swim in the Gulf and hunt seashells and especially they were most fascinated about hunting shark's teeth.
Q: How long has the Bush family been vacationing in Boca Grande?
A: For many years the whole Bush clan has gathered here the week after Christmas. This is the first year President Bush No. 41 didn't get to come. But I will tell you he's doing great and is out of intensive care (loudest ovation of the talk). Because George and I have retired, we've rented a house on Boca Grande the last two Januarys
Q: With all your interests in health care, education and women's rights, how did you become interested in ocean conservation?
A: While George was president, while he worked to conserve marine habitats and resources - he organized the first-ever Cabinet Committee on the oceans - that subsequently completed more than 80 tasks to improve ocean conservation, including the re-authorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. In 2007, George designated the remote northwestern Hawaiian islands as a national marine monument. And in 2009, shortly before he left office, he designated three more national marine monuments: the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, the Rose Atoll and the Pacific Remote Island national monuments. These encompass more than 350,000 square miles - larger than all the U.S. national parks and wildlife refuges combined.
Q: What has been the result of this eco-activity?
A: These marine monuments remain open to shipping and other uses that allow the economies and culture of nearby American territories to prosper - and they remain a wild resource, a place where scientists can make discoveries and where a variety of species can thrive. Countries around the world have followed our lead. In the last several years, the United Kingdom, Australia, Chile and others have extended their protection of marine areas.
Q: Can the Gulf of Mexico be restored ecologically?
A: I understand, like all of you, the pressures on the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Gulf region remains one of the fastest-developing areas in the world. The GOM is a dynamic marine and coastal environment used by millions of people for diverse purposes. We know the health of the GOM is clearly linked to the health of or economy and our communities. Clean and healthy marshes, beaches and bays mean abundant fisheries and protection from storm surge and hurricanes and a vibrant tourist economy.
Q: Where do you see Boca Grande's place in the GOM ecological restoration?
A: As a historical site of tarpon fishing, Boca Grande is at the center of tarpon reproduction and a way station for tarpon that make up the fishery for much of this region. Tarpon fishing brings in thousands of tourists to our area. Mote Marine Laboratory's new satellite office here will be an important center for this region's conservation of the tarpon fishery and of Charlotte Harbor and the surrounding regions. Mote's research initiatives will help Charlotte Harbor remain of the nation's healthiest estuaries. Your efforts will protect this beautiful part of the country for our children and our children's grandchildren and our grandchildren's children.