Some veterans of the Kennedy era joined me yesterday at the Cornwall town hall for a reading and book discussion about DEAR MRS. KENNEDY.
Nancy Tuckerman, White House Social Secretary from June of 1963 until the end of the Kennedy administration, talked about trying to cope with the Secret Service & FBI demand—in the early days after November 22 when the condolence mail was pouring in at 35,000 to 40,000 a day—that every letter be opened and considered for what it might reveal about "a larger plot." Nancy is one of pluckiest, most unpretentious women I've met, and I can understand thoroughly why she and Jackie Kennedy got along so well, from their early days at Miss Porter's until Jackie's death in 1994.
Bob Estabrook was Editorial Page Director at the WASHINGTON POST when JFK was elected, but ran afoul of Post publisher Phil Graham—a Kennedy intimate—when he wrote an editorial criticizing Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Graham was induced to send Estabrook to London as foreign correspondent in lieu of firing him outright, and that's where Bob was news of the assassination struck. Bob described the scene on the London tube the day after—stunned silence, open crying, impassioned common affection and a revival of the historic Anglo-American bond. Bob is 92 years old and still serves on the board that oversees THE LAKEVILLE JOURNAL, the rural weekly that Bob took over after he left the Post in the 1970s.
Charles Van Doren, whose brush with fame in the 1950s took on a tragic dimension, read aloud with great emotion the letter he wrote to Mrs. Kennedy a few hours after he heard the news of the President's death—one of the early letters in the book, selected by Jay Mulvaney (my co-author) before he died. Charles also described both his personal mood and the mood of the country in those hours . . . he feels strongly that the country has never really recovered.
A surprise visitor to the Cornwall event was Sandi Jones, whose letter to Mrs. Kennedy I described in last week's blog post.
Several friends who attended thought the event was "historic." It made me realize again the emotional chord that Kennedy's death still strikes in anyone over 50, and I found the occasion humbling. It was also pretty gratifying to see the town hall jam-packed. I have the sense that something is happening with this book that goes far beyond me.