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Reply to Howard Gillette "Remembering John Kennedy"

Tony Lavely

November 23, 2013

Category: Society > Government and Politics

On this, the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, my thoughts turn back to that day.  It was truly the first bad thing that had happened to me in my own "Camelot Life."  Since I was from Massachusetts, I had been even more under the influence and legend of the Kennedy family.  My parents were avid supporters and saw JFK as the reincarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They loved Hubert Humphrey, too, but JFK won their hearts.

During my high-school years, we were very active in the Congregational Church.  My mother was the Director of Religious Education of our church in Newton, MA.  I remember a discussion in our Youth Group about whether a Roman Catholic should be elected president.  Would the US be controlled by the Pope?  Seriously?  JFK put that to rest with his directness of statements and his win in West Virginia.

When JFK was awarded an honorary degree in 1962, I was working as part of the Old Campus set-up team.  I got to within ten feet of Kennedy and could feel his charisma.   Then in his acceptance, he captured Yale hearts with his glib line: "I now have the best of both worlds: a Harvard education and a Yale degree."

As we all know, JFK's assassination was just the first of many traumatic events in the 1960s.  Our Sixties decade was certainly the "end of Innocence."  Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was my father's student at BU in 1955), Medgar Evers, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Vietnam.  Idealism would never be the same.

Thirty years later, Bill Clinton picked up the Kennedy torch, certainly in style if not in full political philosophy.  And Obama has had his chances, but dourness now clouds the charisma he had at the beginning.  Perhaps the political arena as we now know it will never permit another idealistic leader to emerge.

The optimism of youth is still enough of an influence on my life to give me some hope for a better future for my children.  In other words, I have not become a cynic.  But our country and our world cannot rely on memories of Camelot to solve our problems.  Here's hoping that there is another JFK in our future.