John Kennedy was the hero of my youth. He was elected president the fall I began college. The first two years of the Kennedy administration were a dream for those of us in college and his murder a year later was devastating.
In November 1964, the first anniversary of President Kennedy’s death, I put together a small exhibit noting the event, photos from my magazine collection, which was organized through the Humanities Department and displayed during November in the Humanities Reading Room of the Liberal Arts Building.
Entitled, "One Shining Moment", the show caused such a sensation on campus that I proposed to the University Library that a larger, campus-wide exhibit be held the following year. The Library agreed and so for the next twelve months I worked closely with various university departments to organize what would eventually become the single largest exhibition in the history of the University of Arizona.
Ironically, Ted Sorensen, JFK’s chief White House counselor, spoke at the university in November 1965 when the exhibit was on display. Entitled "The Pictorial Kennedy", it occupied more than one thousand square feet of space and was displayed in five buildings on campus.
When I took Sorensen through the exhibit he quipped to me that in all of his travels across the nation he had not seen anything like it. It was a unique effort, made all the more compelling by the fact that the entire university community was behind the exhibit resulting in a show that was so prominent it was covered by the local newspaper and the university year book devoted a page to it in its 1966 edition.
In 1975 the University of Arizona donated the exhibit to the John Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. I received a letter from its director, Dan H. Fenn, Jr., and a correspondence between us began.
In 1979, two weeks before the dedication of the Kennedy Library, I traveled to Boston to meet with Dan Fenn and he was kind enough to give me a personal tour of the new Library as well as invite me to his home for dinner. During the tour of the Library, Dan introduced me to Dave Powers, JFK’s closest associate, and Steve Smith, JFK’s brother-in-law.
Years later, in 2005, in the Bay Area where I lived, I would have the opportunity to meet Caroline Kennedy at a book signing and luncheon in San Francisco.
I discussed the matter with Dan Fenn, who had become a good friend, and he alerted me to the fact that Ms. Kennedy was extremely shy and did not wish to discuss her father.
Since I was making small films at the time and had produced a tribute to President Kennedy as well as Jacqueline Kennedy, two films Dan Fenn had and which he liked very much, we discussed whether or not I should give Caroline Kennedy DVDs of the films.
Dan did not think I should give them to her at the book signing/luncheon event. The book signing, however, turned out to be a shockingly dismal affair.
It was poorly organized and Ms. Kennedy was not presented in a manner that instilled enthusiasm in the crowd who had been waiting for her arrival more than a hour.
Ms. Kennedy appeared without notice and was seated to sign copies of her latest book of poetry for children. She should have at least said a few words to the crowd, thanking us for coming, but she did not.
She was seated quickly at a table where we lined up silently to have copies of her book signed. The entire event was conducted with a dour silence that was shocking.
Ms. Kennedy never said a word nor did she even smile. In fact, she made a point of not looking at the person standing before her as she signed books.