Pastor Bonnie Steinroder tells PEOPLE that the 91-year-old, who injured his neck on Wednesday, "never spent a lot of time lamenting or worrying"

By Lindsay Kimble and Sara Hammel
July 19, 2015 05:50 PM
Credit: Lance King/Getty

George H.W. Bush is still recuperating after falling and breaking a vertebra in his neck at his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Wednesday, but his longtime friend and former pastor Bonnie Steinroeder tells PEOPLE the 91-year-old is resilient.

“He is unbelievable. He is a cat with nine lives,” says Steinroeder, who previously served as the pastor at the First Congregational Church, which was attended by the Bushes.

(Bush was released from the hospital on Sunday, according to his spokesman Jim McGrath.)

Steinroeder, who is now a senior minister at a church in Holliston, Massachusetts, first met the Bush family shortly after September 11, 2001, when Bush’s son, George W. Bush was president. While she hasn’t seen Bush in person since 2008, Steinroeder says she regularly corresponds by letter with both the former president and his wife, Barbara Bush, 90.

“I think very highly of the Bushes,” Steinroeder tells PEOPLE. She says that while she personally is not up-to-date on his health status, Bush has long felt that “his life was in God’s hands.”

“My impression of him, as a pastor and friend, is that he never spent a lot of time lamenting or worrying,” she says of the former president, who she also dubs “very funny.”

Bush’s injury will be treated with a neck brace and he will not have to undergo surgery, his spokesperson Jim McGrath said on Thursday.

“He’s overcome health issues, he continues to show up for charity events, he continues to face life with optimism,” Steinroeder says.

The pastor says the Bush family has long been generous to her and her family, taking time to help her children with school assignments and even join them for lunch.

“He is a gentleman through and through,” she says. “He is so kind. When my husband lost his job, the first call I got was from George Bush saying ‘we are so sorry,’ and ‘is there anything we can do to help you?’ ”

The pastor even insists that Bush is politically blind when it comes to friendship, and says the family is “not like that.”

“His friendship with [Democrat] Bill Clinton is real,” she tells PEOPLE. “Even his opponents get along with him! He’s a gentleman through and through.”

Steinroeder says she’s grateful for her friendship with the political dynasty, and calls Bush and his wife “the real deal.”

“Their marriage was a real model for me,” she says. “They were so happy together and so committed to each other. They were always so kind to one another. They’ve been role models in a lot of ways. Anybody would want him for a friend and neighbor.”

Prior to his recent injury, Bush was hospitalized in late 2014 in Houston after experiencing shortness of breath, and in 2012 for bronchitis. Never one to slow down, the Republican honored his 90th birthday in 2014 by skydiving.