JFK was my father's hero, both for his good and bad qualities. He was absolutely fascinated by the glamour of "Camelot." He adored Jackie. He held an enduring affection for the whole family and offered to do "pro-bono" free-lance publicity for Robert Jr's environmental causes. He also loved the dark side. The womanizing, the Rat Pack connection, even the negative allegations about the old man's money and the mob links and the West Virginia primary.
For my mother, I think it was Bobby, and the idealism and the hope of THAT campaign. I haven't checked with her, but I recall hearing that she was alone with me and my sister (ages 4 and barely 4 months) on the night that Bobby was killed.
I was in love with the Kennedys as long as I can remember, reading every book I could find, including the most serious and the trashiest. (The first time I ever read about a threesome, was probably in Judith Campell Exner's book. Both JFK and Frank tried to get her in bed with another woman. Both times she says she refused.) I adored movies and made-for-tv films about any Kennedy and I'd pretty much fall in love with any actor who played one. Peter Strauss in "Young Joe the Forgotten Kennedy," William Devane and Martin Sheen as Jack and Bobby in "Missiles of October," Cliff Robertson in PT109. (Rumor is that JFK wanted Warren Beatty.)
My "first" campaign was 1976. I remember being at some kind of Carter/Mondale event, and a tee-shirt, green on white, with a logo of a big grin and a dachshund that said "Grits and Fritz in 76." But I don't know how I got there. The first campaign I made a conscious decision on was Senator Kennedy's run against Carter for the nomination in 1980, and that was all about my Kennedy love.
We know there are no inevitables in history, but I like to believe that there was no way Carter could have won in 1980 and that the primary fight didn't create the Reagan Victory, but this could be my personal version of "Isn't it pretty to think so."
I should have known it was a losing battle. Even my father, with his Kennedy love, told me, point blank, "Mary Jo's lying in the grave." I can remember the night of the Roger Mudd interview and watching the Senator try to answer the question "Why do you want to want to be president," and not have an answer. It was not a great moment. There was nothing there. For a man who was such a great orator and who did have the Kennedy glamour, it just didn't happen that night and it sort of ended the campaign right there, but the primaries went on.
I had a lot of fun being sixteen and hanging out with the Kennedy people who were running the New Jersey Primary campaign and believe it or not, I was actually (not ironically) rather shocked when they pulled out some pot one night.
My greatest moment was the rally in Maywood. I was out there on a suburban street selling buttons and bumper stickers, but the Senator was on the other side of a police barricade shaking hands, and one of my fellow campaign workers said "Come on over!" so I ducked under the police barricade (which was probably not the smartest thing I've ever done) and got over there and got to shake his hand! I was thrilled. High point of the campaign, for me personally, but the greatest moment of the campaign period was the speech at the convention.
For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
No matter how many times I heard that last week during all the coverage, it STILL gets to me.
In 1988, I saw him again at a Dukakis Rally at Mission High. This was a few weeks after the convention when the polls were still high and before the Lee Atwater attack machine had started to do their dirty work. In other words, we though we were going to win. The Senator gave a spanish language version of his speech from the convention. Instead of "Where was George?" it was "Donde estaba Jorge." Again, I risked a brush with the secret service to get close enough to shake his hand. By then you could see the age setting into his face and a little bloat. It was sad, but he was still the Senator and it was electrifying to be there.
Flash forward to 2008 and the speech at the convention in Denver. It had taken some time, but by then I was on the Barack Bandwagon. I was also going through the first motorcycle accident. The Democratic National Convention in Denver took place while hubby was in the "skilled nursing facility" a/k/a "nursing home hell" from the accident. So I didn't get to see the speech until the replay later that night, but it was amazing, everything from the Ken Burns film to the surprise appearance. You could tell he was in bad shape and was probably saying good bye to the party and maybe the country but when he said those words and finished up with the allusion to the 1980 speech, I guarantee you there wasn't a dry eye in the house, certainly not at my apartment.
I know some of you are a lot younger than me, and maybe JFK Jr. was your Kennedy. Maybe you don't even have a Kennedy. But my Kennedy is gone, and it's sad, although at least he got to have a long life, and now he's somewhere with his brothers and sisters.
Goodbye Senator Kennedy. I'll miss you. You were my Kennedy.