I recently watched the excellent HBO documentary “Ethel” about Ethel Kennedy’s life, most of it centered on her years with Robert Kennedy, a person I admired and then mourned when he was so tragically assassinated right after he’d won the California election primary. The film, by Ethel and RFK’s youngest child, Rory Kennedy, who was born just six months after her father died,  is being presented right before our upcoming elections. What an appropriate time!

When the charismatic Robert Kennedy was killed, I was living in the San Fernando Valley. It was devastating news and especially sad that 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, makes me tear up even now. RFK was running along an Oregon beach followed by his dog Freckles. I was once an enthusiastic subscriber to Life and saved several of them, including this one.

Robert F. Kennedy and his dog Freckles

I had first seen Robert Kennedy speak when I was a freshman at William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and he was campaign manager for his brother John Kennedy’s campaign for 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 the President 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 the government, at Constitution Hall one afternoon. We  listened to some long-forgotten government officials and Robert Kennedy, the U.S. 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 buses. Barbara  and I had been friends in high school and we’d visited the U.S. Senate a few years before when we’d seen John Kennedy in action when he was just a senator. I’ve written a blog post about that excursion.

We were ambling along on the grass lawn behind 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, his 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. I wonder sometimes what might have happened if he’d lived and become president. Seeing the documentary “Ethel,” it’s evident that Ethel Kennedy  was one of RFK’s greatest supporters; she would have made an amazing first lady.

Rory Kennedy’s film shows various clips of Robert Kennedy’s speeches. One that  deserves repeating, especially now in advance of November voting: “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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