George H.W. Bush and his Vice President Dan Quayle hit the road quickly after securing the Republican nomination in 1992 and made Gulfport their first stop.
After that, they separated to cover more ground in what was eventually called a rather nasty campaign against Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
But in Gulfport, it was all beginning and both men had their wives with them, as seen in the photo by David Purdy.
It was quite an honor to have him start here, according to those who were there. It was hot as the dickens in Jones Park that late August day, but Bush pulled off his coat and waved to the crowd in what has become an iconic photo of an enthusiastic campaigner.
Bush, 94, died late Friday night, about eight months after his wife, Barbara.
John Mashek, who covered the story for the Boston Globe, called it “a steamy park,” and said “Bush and Quayle, both in their shirt sleeves, criticized the Democrats as out of step with Mississippi residents.”
Mashek said Gulfport was picked as the first stop “largely to demonstrate the importance of the South to the GOP in the electoral strategy against Clinton.”
Sun Herald photographer at the time, David Purdy, said the temperature was in the 90s “and it was humid as all heck.”
“We were stuck in Jones Park waiting, just melting,” Purdy said. “There wasn’t a lot of shade.”
He shot this photograph with a 300 mm lens from the back of a large crowd that had gathered to see Bush and his entourage.
“He was in a shirt, drenched in sweat like the rest of us, but the whole stage was jovial and happy,” Purdy said. “He was waving both hands, like ‘take my picture.’ He must have known someone in the crowd.
“I’ve covered presidential visits to cities before, but this seemed like a big deal to Gulfport,” he said. “There was a sense of pride. It was like, ‘We’re important. The president is coming.’
“Bush was very popular at that time,” Purdy said. “Business people and leaders on the Coast were buzzing that he was coming.”
Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes was a newly minted state senator when the stop was planned.
“It was my the first opportunity to be part of a delegation to receive a president,” he told the Sun Herald. “What I remember is getting to shake his hand on the rope line. He was just sincere.
“The impression I got was that he was very kind, and they were considerate folks. He’s from that Greatest Generation. ...
“Any time we have a president visit, it’s a time to stop and take notice and roll out the red carpet,” Hewes said.
Pat Sullivan was on the Gulfport Fire Department and worked with the Secret Service in setting up the protection detail.
Such an important visit was still a relatively new thing for the Coast in 1992, Sullivan said, and it took some coordinating, but as more presidents have come, the Coast agencies have gotten better and better at working together.
“I had the opportunity to be around him at different times. Every time I met him, he was genuinely a good person, appreciative of the people around him, it appeared to me,” Sullivan said. “He was humble, down-to-Earth and just a good man.”
“I can’t tell you why he chose us, but it was something we were excited about.”
Bush left Gulfport for Branson, Missouri, but went on to lose his bid for re-election.