Former First Lady Laura Bush welcomed a crowd of more than 300 to the new "Mini Mote" in Boca Grande Wednesday.
The sun beamed with temps in the mid-80s on a perfect day for the historic ribbon-cutting at Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory's new Railroad Plaza facility at 480 East Railroad Ave., Unit 7.
The warm winter weather suited Bush just fine. A Texas resident, Laura Bush has rented a house on Boca Grande the past two Januarys with her husband, former President No. 43 George W. Bush.
"I'm very happy to be here today for the new Boca Grande Mini Mote," Bush said. "I'm thrilled Mote Marine is opening this new office in Boca Grande. The Gulf of Mexico has been a part of my life my whole life."
Attending dignitaries included 91-year-old Mote founder Eugenie Clark, former Sen. Connie Mack, former Rep. Andy Ireland, former CIA head Porter Goss and Charlotte County Commissioner Bill Truex. At least four TV stations and four print publications were among the crowd along with the entire Island School contingent of students and teachers.
Ireland and Mini Mote Executive Director Capt. Phil O'Bannon are credited with supplying inspiration to Mote for the location.
"Capt. Phil O'Bannon has taken many Bushes out on fishing trips and, as Andy said, he brought them all home safely as well," Bush said to laughter from the crowd.
Updating the health of hospitalized President No. 41 George H.W. Bush, Laura Bush said he is doing better and out of intensive care.
"For many years the whole Bush clan has gathered (on Boca Grande) the week before Christmas. This is the first year the President No. 41 didn't get to come. But I will tell you he is doing great," Bush said.
The Bush family has a long connection to Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande, where for years they have spent Christmas and New Year holidays golfing and fishing.
President George W. Bush designated the first National Marine Monuments and Laura Bush has advocated similar status for certain areas in the Gulf of Mexico.
"It is wonderful to have Mrs. Bush participate in this historical event - especially given her passion for the protection and conservation of the Gulf of Mexico," said Kumar Mahadevan, Mote president and CEO.
Bush noted Mahadevan lobbied her strongly to back the project at the Gulf of Mexico Summit in December 2010 in Houston.
"He's very persistent," she said. "So when I came to Boca Grande last January I had the chance to go to Sarasota to visit Mote Marine Laboratories."
Mahadevan noted Sarasota-based Mote operations have a staff of about 200 employees augmented with 1,662 volunteers putting in roughly 200,000 volunteer hours annually.
"We'll also need a big core of volunteers right here on the island," he said.
Mote's new satellite office will work to increase knowledge of important marine environment and conservation concerns.
The goal is to help engage the community in marine research by Mote in Charlotte Harbor and Southwest Florida. It will also highlight new research directions for shark, tarpon, snook and dig into the causes of red tide.