June 26th, 2013:

A KENNEDY ENCOUNTER FROM LONG AGO

Robert F. Kennedy and his dog Freckles

When the magnetic Robert Kennedy was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in June 1968, I was living in the San Fernando Valley. It was sad and depressing to know he was killed in Los Angeles, 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, (I still have my copy) makes me tear up even now. RFK was running along an Oregon beach followed by his dog Freckles.

I had first seen Robert Kennedy when I was a freshman at William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and RFK  was campaign manager for his brother John Kennedy’s election as president of the U.S. At that time I wasn’t very political and was probably influenced for the most part by my dad, who was a Republican. I didn’t realize until years later that I was really a liberal Democrat.

Kennedy was talking to students at an evening event held outside and I got a view of him from the rear. It was autumn, probably October 1960, when the last push was on before November voting. Other than the fact that I found him attractive, I can’t remember what kind of impression he made on me, although The Flat Hat, the campus newspaper I worked for, did have a story on him afterwards.

My real thrill came a couple of years later, in 1963, 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 around town 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 in another location, at Constitution Hall that afternoon. Inside, I think we listened to someone important in the Finance Department and perhaps a senator. I’m sure Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General at that time, spoke to us since I saw him later, but the wisdom we probably heard did not stick.

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. It’s the story I shared most recently in my blog. Barbara and I 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.

 

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