President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas fifty years ago today, and I wanted to add my memory to those I’ve been learning about this week.  Shock and grief only begin to describe  most people’s reactions.   I cried again this morning watching a television replay of Kennedy’s funeral as his toddler son John-John, prompted by his heartbroken mother, saluted  his father’s coffin passing by.

I was 31 years old, secretary to an Executive Assistant to A. L. (Al) Williams, President of I.B.M, had been to lunch and just came out of the elevator at 590 Madison Avenue, New York City  as the announcement of the horror was  broadcast through the building. I stood still to listen, barely absorbing the reality of what I heard. Then, crying, I went to my boss’s office, hoping for some comfort. Mr. Zollinger was a classic older Southern gentleman — but I’d forgotten that many Southerners despised Catholics, Democrats and the Irish — many still do. And Kennedy was all three.

Mr. Zollinger was all business, never even mentioned the tragedy, and handed me a long typing job — columns of numbers — on a  long carriage statistical typewriter at that.  I wasn’t  feisty in those days and set to work to finish the assignment without complaint or comment, but with more typos than usual. No computer Delete and Backspace back then.   And I worked until 5 PM — still can’t quite understand or forgive such coldness.

My mother, sister and I had started painting our dining room, and through the next sad days we kept busy with our project as we weeped, watched and listened to the solemn ceremonies. As Irish Catholic Democrats we were deeply bereaved. It gets my Irish up to this day when Kennedy and his family are denigrated and slandered — not that any of them were faultless. Who is human without sin?

But John was a courageous inspiration for his generation and beyond, as was his soon to be murdered brother Robert. Both were in the finest tradition of those descended from the land of saints and sinners, dreamers and warriors, scholars and poets. And every now and then someone appears who embodies them all, as these two young martyrs did. .


  1. thanks for sharing your memories with us, eileen 🙂

  2. You’re welcome, David. I’m so pleased you’re still “on-board” with me! Eileen

  3. my parents were both (apart from each other, since their initial meeting also took place in 1963) studying in the U.K. in november of 1963 & my mother has told me the story of being informed of JFK’s murder by her british landlady

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