John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed 50 years ago today, dead of an assassin's bullet while riding in the streets of Dallas, Texas. Like so many others of a certain generation, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the shocking news.
I was standing in the kitchen of our small apartment in El Cerrito, across the bay from San Francisco, drying dishes when Carolyn, our five-year old daughter's television show was interrupted with the announcement President Kennedy had been shot. I rolled up the tea towel I was holding into a tight little ball and threw it across the room, exclaiming, "Why would anyone want to do that?"
From that minute to Walter Cronkite's tearful announcement on CBS that the president was dead, to his burial at Arlington National Cemetery, that terrible moment has stayed with me; a moment that changed our history and changed our world -- and nothing has seemed the same since.
In the presidential campaign of 1968 I had the privilege of working as a press aide for the president's brother, Robert F. Kennedy, who also died from an assassin's bullet, but I never knew President Kennedy -- except to know him from newspaper articles and books, from television and radio documentaries, and through family and presidential aides who worked for him at the White House.
But in many ways President Kennedy changed my life, awakening in me an interest in politics and government; in the Athenian ideal of citizenship, on the duty of every person in a democracy to be engaged in service to others; that no one gets a pass.
Four days before his inauguration in 1961, the president-elect spoke before the Massachusetts State Legislature, quoting Pericles in his address he told those assembled, "We do not imitate, but are a model to others."
The president's choice of Pericles' words were fitting and appropriate to the time and place, but you decide whether they still apply -- America as a "model" to others.
Today brings us to the point of dreadful remembrance, and both here at home and across the distant oceans of our world, books and magazines, essays and op-eds, have poured from the printing presses, while countless hours of television and radio time have been devoted to the president's death, seeking to capture the grace and charm of his being and of his presidency.
But for now this op-ed will have to stand as my tribute to the man who became the 35th president of the United States of America.
I think of myself as a strong person, but I do not choose to allow what happened that black day in America to again overwhelm me. It was such a terrible, awful, horrific moment, or whatever adjective you choose, that I will leave it to others to tell the larger story of his life and death -- knowing in this there is no loss, as their literary skills transcend mine.
I am a friend of the Kennedy family, and those I know best, beginning with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Bobby and Ethel Kennedy's eldest; her daughter, Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, and Joe Kennedy III, who represents Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District, matter to me, greatly, and on this day of remembrance I will honor the president's life and memory in an appropriate fashion, but I am not reliving it.
On that bitterly cold January day in 1961, when the senator from Massachusetts became President John F. Kennedy, I watched on television his inaugural address from the East Front of the U.S. Capitol, and along with millions of other Americans, I was deeply moved; never forgetting his words or his challenge, "And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."
That was 50 years ago and no president since, not Mr. Johnson, Mr. Nixon, Mr. Ford, Mr. Carter, Mr. Reagan, Mr. Bush 41, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush 43, or Mr. Obama, have come close to issuing a similar challenge, to cowardly to call us to an accounting, and because of their failure, individually and collective, we are not the nation we were -- and it's not even close.
I will leave it here, with a link to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, which I often visit while in Boston and where friends carry on in memory of the man who was Camelot: