November 21st, 2010:

Remembering Bobby Kennedy

The Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote a very touching story today about Juan Romero, the Ambassador Hotel busboy who held Kennedy’s hand in the pantry as he lay dying in June, 1968.  The photo taken of the kneeling Juan Romero and Robert Kennedy sprawled on his back after being shot is a famous one. Romero, now 60 and a resident of San Jose, made a special trip with his daughter to Kennedy’s grave site at Arlington National Cemetery to honor his hero’s memory; Kennedy would have been 85 on November 20. Romero was greatly affected by the memory of that night and, Lopez said, honored the presidential candidate’s memory by “living a life of tolerance and humility.”

When the magnetic Robert Kennedy was killed, I was living in the San Fernando Valley. It was sad and depressing to know he was killed in my new hometown. I couldn’t help but remember the times I had seen him years before in Virginia and Washington, D.C. in the  early 1960s. This Life Magazine cover of June 14, 1968, makes me tear up even now. RFK was running along an Oregon beach followed by his dog Freckles.

Robert F. Kennedy and his dog Freckles

I had first seen the magnetic Robert Kennedy when I was a freshman at William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and he was campaign manager for his brother John Kennedy’s election as president of the U.S.  My real thrill came a couple of years later, in 1962, when President John Kennedy created an educational summer program for college students working for the government in offices in the Washington D.C. area. To initiate the program JFK himself met with student workers on the lawn of the White House. Although I don’t recall a word he said, it was probably an inspiring but short speech on how we were going to learn something about the inner workings of government, which was to take place several times during the summer at Constitution Hall, an auditorium near the Washington Mall that sat 4,000 people.

Student workers were bussed from various offices to spend a couple of hours listening to important members of government. I was picked up where I was working at Washington National Airport. I met my friend Barbara, also working for government, at Constitution Hall that afternoon. We  listened to some long-forgotten government officials and Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General at that time. What wisdom they imparted to us students, I no longer remember.

When the speeches were over, Barbara and I walked back to our busses. Barbara was the girlfriend who accompanied me to the U.S. Senate a few years before when we’d seen John Kennedy as a senator. I’ve written a blog post about it.

We were ambling along close to Constitution Hall when we passed a ramp leading to a building entrance. A limousine was parked there, angled downward, ready to leave with its passenger. We both glanced over and saw Robert Kennedy in the back seat, blue eyes flashing. He had spotted us and gave us a huge genuine grin and we smiled back, delighted that we’d seen him.

I lost touch with Barbara years ago, but I bet she also has a vivid memory of seeing Robert Kennedy, whose inner being seemed to pour out of his eyes.

Lopez’s column quoted something Robert Kennedy said, and it deserves repeating: “What we need in the United States is not division…not hatred…not violence or unlawfulness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country…Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to take the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world…”

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