The Death of a President

President

On November 22nd, fifty years ago, I was an 8th grader home alone from school with a bad cold. Mid-morning I turned on the television to watch some old soap opera, but instead saw nothing but views of empty Austin_banquet_tablesbanquet tables. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing, and it took quite awhile for the sound to warm up so I could hear what was being said. When the sound finally came on, I was shocked to hear that President Kennedy had been shot. A short while later, they announced his death. What a terribly sad time for all of us. For me, that heartbreak certainly marked the end of my innocent idealism of childhood.

It’s incredible to realize that 50 years have gone by since that horrible happening and that defining moment in my own life. Even after 50 years, the pain is still present and I’ve had difficulty with all the recent books, news reports, magazine articles, and so many photographs published in remembrance of that tragedy. Especially the photographs we were shielded from at that time. It was a kinder time that way.

The death of this young president was a very personal loss for me. Rather than dwell on the memories of the assassination, I’ll share some of the reasons I felt his death so deeply.

When President Kennedy was elected, I was at a very impressionable age, and I was completely captured by this young and vibrant dressmaker01president and especially by his beautiful wife, Jacqueline. With her elegant fashion sense and her love of the arts, she became my role model. A book I adored during that time was called I was Jacqueline Kennedy’s dressmaker, by Mini Rhea. I poured over the drawings of dress designs, and loved reading about Mrs. Kennedy’s style and elegance. Photos of me at the time show her influence on my own style of dress… I remember reading that her philosophy was “simplicity is elegance.” And, oh, she was elegant! But even better, she loved literature and art, and so did I…

My family and I always enjoyed watching Jack Kennedy’s speeches and news conferences. The_Kennedy_WitHe had such a wonderful sense of humor, and I remember we watched news conferences and the state of the union addresses together because they were so entertaining as well as informative. On my shelf I still have a little book from 1965 called The Kennedy Wit, compiled and edited by Bill Adler, full of those humorous answers, comments, quips and jokes from throughout his presidency. An example of his wicked sense of humor was his famous statement at the White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners:

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Many people, young and old, were deeply inspired by President Kennedy’s inauguration speech:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Kennedy_and_AFSI took that eloquent call to action very seriously, too, and a few years later I was accepted into the American Field Service exchange program, and spent a year as a student in Argentina, immersing myself in a different culture and truly becoming a “citizen of the world” through that experience. So much of who I am now is directly tied to that pivotal year in my life. Click here to listen to President Kennedy talking with a group of AFSers in 1961.

As I remember the death of a president fifty years ago, I revisit the powerful influence President and Mrs. Kennedy had on my own life. When I remember the Kennedy years, I also remember me and my own ‘beginnings.” The memories are vivid. So this is a poignant anniversary and a loss I still feel deeply after 50 years. It is not “history” to me … It is “story.”

Kennedys

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11 thoughts on “The Death of a President

  1. Nish

    Lovely post. I can relate somewhat because when I was a kid there were two horrific assassinations of Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and later her son Rajiv Gandhi. Both these people were quite charismatic, and in some ways inspiring. I definitely learnt the meaning of tragedy very quickly.

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  2. Anonymous

    What a lovely remembrance of that most poignant day in the history of our Nation. Many have written of their own experience during that tragic time, but none more beautifully than you have done. I was deeply moved with your story.

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  3. Kailana

    Not being around back then I don’t have the personal experience, but I have always been interested in the Kennedy’s. We watched a bunch of stuff they were playing on the TV about it. Still sad.

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  4. Robin Post author

    Thank you, Nish. I remember both of the Gandhi assassinations and they were very sad tragedies for the world, too.

    Thank you, Mom.

    Thanks, Kelly. The Kennedy stories really are a fascinating history, of family and of the world.

    Thank you, Booksync. I love to see old photographs of the Kennedys that weren’t the usual ones to see. They reveal so much more about them as human beings.

    Thank you, Nan.

    That’s an interesting memory, Sandradan1. It must have made a great impression on you at such a young age, having the adults behave so differently than usual. I remember the amazing feeling of having the whole world sharing that sadness and time of mourning.

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  5. Les in NE

    This is a beautifully, moving story. I was not quite 2 at the time, so I have no recollection like yours. However, I remember feeling almost the same sense of sadness when Princess Di was killed. She and I were close to the same age, married within a week of each other, and had our first child within a couple of years of each other. We both wound up getting divorced for pretty much the same reasons.I thought she was very regal and even dressed a little bit like her back in the early 80s. Thanks for sharing your memories, Robin.

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  6. deslily

    I remember where I was when I heard about JFK.. I missed nothing of the tv coverage back then..but I learned a few things I did not remember hearing about when I read a book in november called : Jack, a life like no other. Many times it’s hard to believe that this happened during my lifetime… even with his faults he remains my favorite president “of my time”. Roosevelt would have probably been up near the top too!

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  7. Robin Post author

    Thanks, Les, and thanks for sharing your memories of losing Diana. Gone too soon, these people that were so special to us at key times in our lives!

    Thanks, Pat. I’ll have to read that book. He was my favorite president too, despite the human faults and frailties that came to light later on. I was so captured by the idealism and hope that he inspired, and there was a youthful innocence the world lost with his death. And, oh yes…I’m fascinated by Franklin and Eleanor, too. Haven’t read as many books about them as you have, but there’s a president (with plenty of human faults and frailties) that inspires!

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