In the academic year 1962-1963, my husband and I were graduate students at the University of Kentucky. We applied and were selected for a special internship program in Washington, D.C. I worked at the Securities and Exchange Commission during the day, but in the evenings and especially during the weekend, the internship program arranged for us to participate in many academic, political and social programs.
I got my high-prestige assignment because I could take shorthand, but I only used that skill once. A new, very good-looking lawyer called me in for dictation. I was nervous, and he was even more nervous. I noticed that he looked down periodically and that, surprisingly, he dictated very smoothly. Shortly afterwards, he left the office. I went in and, sure enough, there in his trash can was a typed version of the letter that he had dictated to me. I went back to my desk, re-typed it exactly as on his script – voila!
One Saturday the group of us from Kentucky visited Sen. John Sherman Cooper (R-Kentucky) in his Georgetown home where we sat around his living room and heard him talk informally about the challenges and joys of his career. Then we mingled in his backyard where numerous Washington dignitaries of that era greeted us. The scene had all the ambience one associates with garden parties in Georgetown: trees lit with indirect lights, candles on covered tables, waiters in formal garb offering trays of hors d’oeuvres, elegantly-dressed dignitaries and stilted conversations. One memory stands out. A senator’s wife, more than a little tipsy, began every single conversation by asking where the student was from and then exclaiming joyfully that she had visited that state and then moved to another student to ask the same question and respond in exactly the same way. We all thought it was pretty funny, but in hindsight, it was sadly indicative of the artificial Washington D.C. social scene, then as now.
We heard Bobby Kennedy speak; he tried to quote his brother’s famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” He bumbled the line, stammered a bit, and finally recovered saying, “That’s why he is president, and I’m not.”
Another memorable occasion was a White House visit and reception with President Kennedy. He spoke to us quite informally and then mingled around shaking hands and talking individually with students. His charm and social skills were as effective as they have been extolled.
One memory is especially poignant.
We met in a small State Department auditorium with theatre seats. Gil and I chose seats higher up with a panoramic view of the room. We noted and wondered about the very striking bleached blond seated off to the side. She was obviously out-of-place in such a gathering of graduate students; she was dressed very provocatively for those days –– low cut blouse and tight, short skirt. It was years later and after inside information came to light, before we even considered the possibility that she might have been with the presidential party.
That afternoon, we heard from numerous State Department dignitaries, including the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, but we were especially interested in hearing President Kennedy. There was a pause in the program before he was scheduled to speak and I noticed that – directly in our line of vision off in the right wing – a door was slightly open, and we could see into the area where the President was standing talking to others. It was awesome; our angle from far left to far right allowed us to see the President in casual interaction with his staff and others. While the person introducing the President walked to the podium, we watched Mr. Kennedy move to where he could watch and listen to the introduction.
We were struck by his sheepish, little-boy grin as he listened to the praise. We couldn’t help but smile and enjoy the moment with him. It was a snapshot of a genuine, human response, in the midst of all the pomp and circumstance. We caught a glimpse of the real man behind the Presidential facade.
Just a few short months later, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald.
You can follow Dr. Crouse on Twitter at @JaniceCrouse.