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OP-ED: Personal Kennedy remembrances
December 05, 2013, 05:00 AM By Gene Mullin

Gene Mullin

After the many recent stories commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy, I’d like to offer my memories of the Kennedy family at the beginnings of his presidency.
I was fortunate to know Joseph Kennedy, John’s father, financier and former ambassador to Great Britain. As fate would have it, in the late 1950s I worked summers as a lifeguard at the Cal Neva Lodge resort at Lake Tahoe, and each June, the senior Kennedy stayed for most of the month at the resort. He often golfed alone in the early mornings at the nearby Brockway Vista course, and I was usually his caddy. As a college student at the time, I was somewhat aware of his importance but less so of his children and grandchildren — some of whom would stay in his resort residence from time to time in those early summer months.
His three sons were rare visitors, but the daughters often came, and joined his niece and companion, Ann Gargan, who usually spent summers and vacations with the Kennedy family. The most frequent visitor was daughter Patricia, who was then married to actor Peter Lawford. Lawford was one member of the so-called “Rat Pack,” headed by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra fronted a syndicate that purchased the Cal Neva in 1961 but was a frequent presence in the years prior.
After college I wound up in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1960 and my earlier connections with the Kennedy family led me to a volunteer position with John Kennedy’s presidential campaign, primarily doing canvassing and precinct work in northern Virginia. Living in the District of Columbia, I was unable to vote in presidential elections — the subsequent 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution corrected that disenfranchisement of district residents.
John Kennedy would frequently address his campaign workers, often from the front steps of his home in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., Most of us, as “twenty-somethings” were captivated by this candidate who was not that many years older than us. Many of us volunteers had full-time jobs and did campaign volunteering in our off hours; having the candidate talk to us, standing on the sidewalk in front of his residence, was payment enough.
The Kennedy inaugural in January of 1961, as were all others in earlier administrations, was held on the west side of the Capitol building, a much more space-limited setting than we see now with ceremonies on the east side, facing the Capitol Mall. I lived within walking distance of the Capitol, and was one of the relatively small assemblage that observed Chief Justice Earl Warren administer the oath of office to JFK, hear Robert Frost’s poem and finally the newly elected president delivering what is now regarded as one of the signature inaugural speeches ever. Although likely written by Ted Sorensen, Kennedy’s aide and speech writer, the sentences: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. My fellow world citizens, ask not what America can do for you, but what we can do together” set the tone not only for that speech, but for the new dynamic created by the Kennedy administration.
A severe snow storm the night before — not accurately predicted by the local weather folks — made access into and around the district difficult both for that day and several days after. I marvel at the hundreds of thousands and more that inaugurations currently draw.
It was a privilege to observe many of those 1,000 days of the JFK presidency from up close although, by the time of his assassination, I had returned to the Bay Area. But I retain the fond memories of the beginnings of the Kennedy presidency, and the sad recollections of the end of his presidency and his life.

Gene Mullin is a former member of the California Assembly, the former mayor of South San Francisco and a former teacher.

 

 

Tags: kennedy, former, presidency, family, campaign, often,


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